Eighth Person Dies of COVID-19 While in the Custody of Cook County Jail
Yesterday, Harold Graszer died after having contracted COVID-19 in Cook County Jail. He was 85 years old, and he is now the eighth person to die from COVID-19 while in the custody of Cook County Jail. Mr. Graszer had two pending cases and was denied a bond reduction on September 30, 2020 by Judge Joseph Claps.
Over the last few months, the number of people incarcerated in the jail has returned to pre-pandemic levels. As of today, 5,518 people are incarcerated in the jail in unsanitary conditions and unable to socially distance. In the last week, the number of people who are currently confirmed positive for COVID-19 in the jail almost doubled, from 75 on November 9th to 140 people yesterday, November 16th. The Cook County Sheriff’s office spent the summer fighting to overturn the preliminary injunction put in place by a class action lawsuit that argued the conditions inside the jail would lead to the loss of lives. The injunction, issued by federal judge Matthew Kennelly, mandated that the Cook County Sheriff’s office distribute soap, hand sanitizer and masks to people in its custody. It also required social distancing measures be put in place inside the jail to stop the spread of the virus; it is these social distancing requirements that were overturned by the appeals court at the Sheriff’s request.
Overturning those social distancing requirements was one of the Sheriff’s only victories in his attempts to evade federal court oversight of the COVID-19 protections at Cook County Jail. Throughout the court case, the Sheriff argued that oversight was not needed because he was taking all of the precautionary measures of his own initiative anyway. Despite those claims, the Sheriff’s Office began putting two people in a single cell again as soon as that element of the injunction was lifted. The Sheriff’s Office also continued to house hundreds of people in dormitory settings where individuals sleep less than six feet apart from each other. Since the lawsuit was filed in April, we have received consistent reports from people incarcerated in the jail that conditions remain unsanitary, masks are irregularly distributed, and that guards continue to patrol the jail while not wearing masks. These conditions will inevitably lead to even more preventable deaths.
Sheriff Dart must resume the practice of socially distancing people in the jail and ensure that all guards are wearing masks at all times. It is also crucial that State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Chief Judge Tim Evans work with Public Defender Amy Campanelli to begin an expedited review of bonds for people currently in the jail and reduce the number of people potentially exposed before more lives are lost.
Throughout the pandemic, Cook County Judges have insisted on setting unaffordable money bonds that have put people’s lives at risk because of the size of their bank account. In September, the Coalition to End Money Bond released a report on the Cook County criminal court’s response to COVID-19. The Coalition found that of the 2,366 people who received a bond review between March 23 and April 22, 2020, 750 people had their motions for release denied and that nearly half of the more than 5,000 people incarcerated in the jail last spring at the height of the pandemic never had their detention reconsidered. During the hearings that did take place, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office opposed release in the vast majority of cases—approximately 80%. Judges granted over 90% of motions when the State’s Attorneys agreed to release compared to only 53% over the State’s objection. Coalition court watchers observed 868 bond hearings over a two week period between May 18th and June 6th, and more than 330 of these individuals received money bonds. The majority of those money bonds were unaffordable and likely to result in pretrial jailing.
If Cook County does not take bold action NOW, more lives will inevitably be lost. We join Mr. Graszer’s friends, family, and community in mourning his death. We remain committed to fighting for the freedom of everyone incarcerated in the death trap that is Cook County Jail.
Take Action: We are again calling on the Cook County State’s Attorney and Chief Judge to take bold action to reduce the number of people incarcerated in Cook County Jail. We are also calling on the Sheriff Dart to reinstate the social distancing practices originally ordered by the federal court, an order which his office worked to overturn.
Call-in & Email Scripts
State’s Attorney Office
Phone: (312) 603-1880
“Hi, my name is ______ and I live in _________. I’m calling to demand that the Cook County State’s Attorney Office take steps to dramatically lower the number of people in jail in response to COVID-19. This means declining to prosecute most cases, not filing new violations of bond or probation conditions, and instructing line prosecutors to support release of people currently detained pretrial in Cook County Jail in bond hearings.”
Phone: (312) 603-6444
“Hi, my name is ______ and I live in _________. I’m calling to demand that the Cook County Sheriff’s Office take steps to dramatically lower the number of people in jail in response to COVID-19 and ensure that anyone in his custody is able to practice social distancing.”
Office of the Chief Judge
Phone: (312) 603-6000
“Hi, my name is ______ and I live in _________. I’m calling to demand that the Cook County Chief Judge take steps to dramatically lower the number of people in jail in response to COVID-19. This means facilitating bond review hearings for people currently in jail and instructing judges not to admit new people to the jail.”