Chicago Community Jail Support
“We’re just neighbors, just people, showing up. You don’t have to have a social work degree or anything. If you care, show up.”
Readers can donate to Chicago Community Jail Support on CashApp ($ChicagoJS) or at this link.
When Chicago froze over this winter, Cook County Jail kept releasing people into the snow, leaving them to fend for themselves in sub-zero temperatures without any assistance.
“The sheriff was releasing people with basketball shorts and sandals on!” said one support volunteer.
Fortunately, a cadre of volunteers were waiting outside the jail with warm clothes, PPE, and a propane heater.
For over a year now, Chicago Community Jail Support has been stepping up and standing outside the jail to provide critical resources and transportation to the folks released from Cook County Jail, who oftentimes face dire circumstances in a sparsely populated area and no support.
This treatment of incarcerated people is unfortunately unsurprising. Just last year, CCBF, civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy, Civil Rights Corps, and the MacArthur Justice Center filed a class action lawsuit against Sheriff Tom Dart for the unsanitary, dilapidated, cruel, and deeply harmful conditions at the jail that exposed people inside to COVID-19. As reported by jail support volunteers, Cook County Jail continues to do tremendous additional harm when releasing people. By releasing people separately without their property (which is almost always still at a separate police district), dragging out release-times, leaving family members in the dark for hours at a time, and altogether offering zero material support, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office harms people at a time when they need the most care and support.
As one volunteer puts it, “The jail is starting the cycle of violence, not just perpetuating it.”
Chicago Community Jail Support formed during the uprisings of summer 2020. They originally set up outside multiple precincts and outside Cook County Jail where protestors were being detained. Coordinating digitally, they started out waiting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to support protesters who had been arrested during uprising actions. But the vast majority of people that volunteers encountered were not protesters, they were other community members.
Volunteers learned that loved ones and families often waited outside the jail for hours for their loved ones to be released, making them physically vulnerable and putting them at risk for loss of employment income and childcare. The jail support volunteers saw that community members released from jail needed the same care and resources as protestors (often moreso, because not everyone has a support system waiting for them upon release, let alone one that can afford to wait outside the jail for hours on end). And too many people are released every day that are houseless or have unstable housing.
So, Chicago Community Jail Support organizers decided to stick around. Volunteers now staff on-the-ground support shifts from 5pm to 10pm (11pm on weekends), seven days a week. In addition to the free phone calls, ride coordination, and material resources (such as safe sex kits, hygiene kits, cigarettes, PPE, snacks, and warm clothing) provided by on-the-ground volunteers, a remote emergency housing coordinator can also help released people pay for a hotel room or find other shelter. Chicago Community Jail Support purchased a dedicated van this year, which allowed volunteers to keep extra supplies on hand for on-the-ground shifts, and provided warm shelter for released persons and volunteers during the winter months. Guided by the principles of mutual aid, Chicago Community Jail Support accomplishes all of this with a core group of 70-100 volunteers organized by 8 non-hierarchical working groups.
The Chicago Community Bond Fund is immensely grateful for the assistance that Chicago Community Jail Support has provided to the people of Chicago, and specifically to the people that we have bonded out. When CCBF reached out to Chicago Community Jail Support regarding someone that was housing unstable, volunteers booked a room in a hotel and worked with him until he found long-term placement at a supportive shelter. As a result of their support, this individual was able to purchase a phone and car, and is currently able to look for work without worrying about where he will stay at night. Chicago Community Jail Support has also supported people who are on electronic monitoring, by providing grocery deliveries and cell phones donated by other community members.
Jail support volunteers see themselves as part of the abolitionist struggle to tear down carceral systems and replace them with community care. As abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore has said, “Abolition is not absence, it is presence…. Abolition is building the future from the present, in all the ways we can.” Chicago Community Jail Support hopes that their work can be an example of community safety where neighbors can help each other outside of state systems. At the same time, the group aims to disrupt pre-trial detention by witnessing the system’s inherent inhumanity.
“We can create a small atmosphere of hospitality next to a place that is perpetuating great harm,” explained one jail support volunteer.
You can learn more and help amplify Chicago Community Jail Support’s message by visiting their webpage or following their Instagram account (@chicommunityjailsupport). You can support the group by donating here or on CashApp ($ChicagoJS). Readers can also purchase needed supplies from the Target registry here.
Finally, you can sign up to volunteer with Chicago Community Jail Support by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Although the group particularly needs drivers and weekend shift coverage, volunteers can adapt their contributions to match their schedule/capacity and can also provide remote support through various working groups. Other ways that Chicago Community Jail Support hopes that you can support their goals are:
- Calling/emailing Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, or Mayor Lori Lightfoot and demand that they improve conditions at Cook County Jail.
- Support the Coalition to End Money Bond and other abolitionist efforts to dismantle the system of mass incarceration and inhumane treatment.
- Support other mutual aids in your neighborhood/community and keep your community members safe by giving of your time and resources and meeting people where they are. We are surviving and sustaining jail support efforts because of our connections and partnerships with other mutual aids.