Federal Court of Appeals Orders Cook County Sheriff to Continue Most COVID-19 Protections in Cook County Jail

 In General

On Monday, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Cook County Sheriff’s Office must continue to adhere to a majority of the lower court’s orders regarding conditions inside Cook County Jail during the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 9th, federal judge Matthew Kennelly ordered Sheriff Dart to implement policies ensuring sanitation, testing, social distancing at intake, and the distribution of personal protective equipment to incarcerated people as part of a temporary restraining order. On April 27th, Judge Kennelly extended and increased those protections to require social distancing for most people incarcerated in Cook County Jail in a preliminary injunction. In mid-May, Sheriff Dart appealed the court’s preliminary injunction to the Seventh Circuit, arguing that the ongoing oversight was unnecessary and burdensome. While the Seventh Circuit did allow the Sheriff to avoid ongoing compliance regarding social distancing inside the jail, the court largely upheld Judge Kennelly’s preliminary injunction. 

Although the number of cases of COVID-19 in Cook County Jail has dropped, it remains incredibly important that these policies stay in place to prevent a resurgence of the virus. There is a distinct correlation between the implementation of these policies and the decrease in the number of COVID-19  cases and resultant deaths inside the jail. Without the actions taken by the court, it is almost certain that more lives would have been lost to the virus due to the indifferenceof the Cook County’s Sheriff’s Office, which did not act quickly enough to protect the lives of the people in its custody. 

Yesterday’s ruling is the latest development in the Mays vs. Dart lawsuit challenging conditions inside Cook County Jail during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of today, more than 500 people incarcerated in the jail have contracted the deadly virus and the lives of seven people incarcerated in the jail have been lost. More than 400 Sheriff’s employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and three have died. Cook County Jail is one of the nation’s largest single-site jails and was previously identified as one of the single biggest Coronavirus hotspots in the United States. A more recent study concluded that one in six of all COVID-19 cases in Chicago was connected to Cook County Jail.

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