Call the City of Chicago to Demand They Drop Their Opposition to Release!

Last night, Chicago’s city government submitted an amicus brief in support of keeping people incarcerated in Cook County Jail, the epicenter of the nation’s COVID-19 pandemic. This position is inhumane and will cause many people to needlessly suffer and die. The City’s position also relies on racialized fearmongering and disproven claims that people released from jail will commit new crimes in significant numbers. The City then advances several false arguments suggesting that people who could be released through the lawsuit may in fact be better off in jail, suggesting they will have better access to health care, housing, and transition more successfully in the future if they remain incarcerated now. All of these positions are indefensible from both public health and human rights perspectives.

Contagious people will infect others, and the only way to avoid the spread of coronavirus is through social distancing. Social distancing is impossible in jail, so keeping contagious people incarcerated only ensures transmission to other prisoners and staff instead of people on the outside. In fact, the declaration submitted by medical experts in this very case says, “The current CDC recommendations for social distancing and frequent handwashing measures, which are the only measures available to protect against infection, are not possible in the current correctional environment at the Jail.” Incarcerating contagious people is not about limiting spread, it’s about limiting who can be infected. The City’s argument privileges the lives of people on the outside while sacrificing the lives of people inside Cook County Jail, treating them as disposable. Furthermore, rapid spread of COVID-19 within the jail ensures that our shared health care resources will be further unnecessarily strained. This endangers every resident of Chicago and Cook County.

Call the City of Chicago to Demand They Drop Their Opposition to Release! Call-in info:

The city’s amicus also attempts to use scary-sounding charges as a way to divert attention from the fact that today, nearly 1,000 of the 4,500 people who remain incarcerated in Cook County Jail are there only because they lack access to wealth. If those individuals or their loved ones had enough money to pay their bonds, they would already have been free. While the amicus claims that, “we can all agree that no one should be incarcerated … simply because they lack the ability to pay cash bail,” it then goes on to selectively list charges in an attempt to scare decisionmakers and the public, ignoring both the presumption of innocence and the fact that people with bonds set have been cleared for release by a judge.

If Mayor Lightfoot actually believes no one should be incarcerated because of their economic situation, the City of Chicago should not be pushing to keep these 1,000 people incarcerated. On a normal day, wealth-based pretrial jailing is an unjust and unconstitutional practice that could destroy a person’s life; in the age of COVID-19, it could end it.

Additionally, it is important to remember that there are hundreds of individuals incarcerated in Cook County Jail who are serving short sentences on misdemeanor charges. There are also other people there because of parole or probation violations, which often do not amount to even the allegation of a new underlying crime. The fearmongering in the city’s brief merely reinforces the racialized logic of mass incarceration and attempts to enforce a sort of collective punishment that will end in the deaths of many.

Thousands of people are discharged from jails and prisons across the US every day. In Cook County, 70% of incarcerated people return straight to the community upon their release from the jail. There is a chronic lack of funding for re-entry services both here in Cook County and across Illinois. Our elected officials have continuously failed to provide funding for these programs, and are now attempting to use their own inaction as justification for ongoing incarceration and punishment. This bad-faith argument is unacceptable and ignores the fact that keeping people incarcerated requires more money than providing housing and other resources in the community. 

Finally, the city’s amicus states that “the relief sought by Plaintiffs threatens to consume the resources of the City and endanger the health of its residents.” The truth is that ensuring more people become ill at the same time and while in the custody of Cook County Jail will consume more of the city and county’s resources. It also endangers the health of all residents while leading to the deaths of more incarcerated people. Since early March, we have warned that if Cook County didn’t release people from Cook County Jail in large numbers, an outbreak of COVID-19 at the jail would inevitably overwhelm the jail’s infirmary and strain the county’s entire health care system, putting everyone at great risk. We are quickly careening down that dangerous road. As of today, more than 250 people incarcerated in Cook County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19, as well as more than 150 correctional officers. One person has already died. If we do not act soon, more lives will be needlessly lost. 

Thankfully, some members of City leadership are taking a different approach. This morning, Alderpeople Carlos Rosa, Rossanna Rodriguez, Byron Sigcho Lopez Jeanette Taylor, Daniel La Spata and Roberto Maldonado released this letter calling on Mayor Lightfoot to withdraw the City’s amicus and support the release of people from Cook County Jail during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Today, we are urging you to call the Mayor’s Office to demand the City stop opposing the release of medically vulnerable people incarcerated in Cook County Jail. Instructions are below and here.

Call-in & Email Script

The City of Chicago has filed an amicus brief in support of keeping people incarcerated in Cook County Jail during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cook County Jail is a death trap, and leaving people incarcerated there during this pandemic will result in the needless deaths of both people in the jail’s custody and others in the community as our shared health care system becomes overwhelmed. We are urging you to call the Mayor’s Office to demand the City stop opposing the release of medically vulnerable people incarcerated in Cook County Jail. 

Call Mayor Lightfoot at (312) 744-3300. You can email her at
“Hi, my name is ______ and I live in [neighborhood]. I’m calling to demand that Mayor Lightfoot withdraw the City of Chicago’s opposition to release of people incarcerated in Cook County Jail. There is a lawsuit pending that seeks to remove medically vulnerable people from an environment where their lives are in danger and to protect public health. The City should withdraw its amicus in this lawsuit. People inside the jail are part of our community and they are not disposable!”

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