Number of People Incarcerated in Cook County Jail Rises During the COVID-19 Pandemic

For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people incarcerated in Cook County Jail has gone up. Between yesterday and today, at least 50 people were admitted to the health hazard that is Cook County Jail. This is a testament to the fact that County officials are not taking the situation at hand seriously enough. Releasing several hundred people in the last week is important for the health and well-being of those individuals, but it does nothing to protect public health if the cages that were emptied are now being filled with new people. Protecting public health at this moment means more than simply releasing people—which also has not been done at a sufficient scale or pace. To maintain lower numbers of people in the jail, county officials must ensure that new people are not being admitted to the jail.

Our call to decarcerate Cook County Jail has now been supported by more than 100 advocacy, community, and legal organizations and unions. Similar calls have been issued by the Sun-Times Editorial Board, former Cook County Jail warden Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia and  Reverend Jesse Jackson. Thousands of people have called Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans, State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx, and Sheriff Tom Dart. Our message has been clear: if the county doesn’t take action now, people will die.

As of today, more than 4,700 people are incarcerated in Cook County Jail (CCJ). More than 150 people incarcerated in the jail have tested positive for COVID-19. Thirty-six out of every 1,000 people incarcerated in CCJ have tested positive for COVID-19. One week ago, just four out of every 1,000 incarcerated people were confirmed positive. The rate of infection is increasing rapidly, and it’s not a question of if but when people will start dying. 

This unfortunate development was predictable when the courts stopped their expedited bond review process, ensuring that fewer people would be released. Given that people continue to be admitted to CCJ and few cases are resolving while the courts are closed, additional steps must be taken to prevent the admission of new people to the jail or else the total number of incarcerated people will continue to rise. As long as thousands of people remain in Cook County Jail, the inevitable, exponential rise of COVID-19 infections in the jail will bring down the entire Cook County health system. We remain committed to fighting for the lives of those incarcerated inside Cook County Jail. 

Please continue to call Chief Judge Evans, State’s Attorney Foxx and Sheriff Dart to demand they take swift action to release people now. Contact information and scripts are available at:

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