We Mourn the Loss of James Sonntag’s Life While in Cook County Jail
On September 17, 2020, James Sonntag was found dead in his cell at Cook County Jail. His cause of death is presumed to be suicide. Mr. Sonntag had been in the jail’s custody for only three days at the time of his death. According to the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, a $5,000 D-bond (requiring $500 cash) had already been posted on his behalf by the time he was found unresponsive. However, Mr. Sonntag had not been released because of the delay in setting up electronic monitoring as required by his bond. These unfortunate circumstances demonstrate how even “low” money bond amounts and short stays in jail can prove detrimental to the mental health and physical well-being of those incarcerated—and become deadly. Mr. Sonntag was just 47 years old at the time of his death.
According to a report by Reuters, deaths in jails increased by 8% in 2019, rising to the highest rate seen for the last 12 years. At least 171 people have died in Illinois jails from 2009-2019. This number accounts for deaths inside the 10 jails in the state that detain more than 750 people each and is thus guaranteed to be artificially low. Of the nearly 5,000 deaths reported in jails nationwide, two-thirds of those deaths were people who were awaiting trial.
Mr. Sonntag’s death has now been added to this roster, which continues to climb with the increased threat of COVID-19 and its unacceptable spread inside jails. Our thoughts are with Mr. Sonntag’s family and loved ones. We commit to mourning his loss and continuing the fight alongside and for the lives of everyone inside Cook County Jail.