CCBF mourns seven people who have died in Cook County Jail this year

As of March 2023, seven people in the custody of Cook County Jail have lost their lives—just since the first day of this year. This is already as many people who died while in custody inside Cook County Jail in all of 2022. 

Jails are spaces that are rife with institutional violence and indifference that take the lives and destroy the health of incarcerated people on a daily basis. The most recent comprehensive report on Cook County Jail mortality rates found that 178 people died while in custody in the jail from 1995 to 2004, an average of nearly 20 deaths a year. More recently, from 2017 through 2021, there were a total of 57 deaths of incarcerated people in Cook County custody. The vast majority of these deaths were Black men who died from sickness or homicide.

In the midst of the pandemic, it became especially clear that pretrial incarceration can far too often become a death sentence. Too many of our neighbors passed away from Covid-19 while inside of Cook County Jail. We must also be mindful that pretrial incarceration is a death sentence for too many, even in the absence of a pandemic. 

We take this space to remember those who have recently died in the custody of Cook County Jail, as their stories reveal the harsh reality that the carceral system treats people in custody with a lack of care, respect, and humanity. We mourn with the loved ones who lost:

Marvell Reasonover, 28

Melvin Turner, Jr., 35

Kamaron Charles, 34

Joseph Minarik, 79

Eric Gunn, 23

Thomas Diskin, 57

An unnamed 28-year-old man (who passed away in February)

We still remember and grieve all of those lost in 2022, including Deon Lee and Alteriq Pleasant, who both died while in the custody of the Cook County Sheriff. We also remember Thomas Pfost, who died by suicide while in custody at Cook County Jail on November 17, 2022. He was only 30 years old. Speaking out on their tragic loss, Pfost’s family shared that he was an extremely bright person and will be deeply missed. 

Pfost’s devastating death highlights the way in which pretrial incarceration, combined with unmet health needs, exacerbates horrible situations that occur within the jail system. Instead of violence and isolation, Thomas deserved access to outside voluntary services and a community of support that could have assisted him in his healing process. 

The Chicago Community Bond Fund shares our support and sympathy with all of the families and communities who are grieving the loss of their loved ones. We will continue to fight with the community and our movement partners for collective freedom and healing for those who experience violence at the helm of the criminal punishment system.

These deaths, though tragic, are sadly not an accident. The prison industrial complex exists to criminalize, harm, and regularly snatch the lives of our loved ones without apology. We will not forget those whom we have lost, and we will not stop fighting for those we stand to lose if we do not disarm and dismantle this murderous system. As we approach major changes to pretrial incarceration in Illinois (while awaiting the Illinois Supreme Court decision on the Pretrial Fairness Act), let us not forget that so long as jails and prisons remain in operation, we remain in a state of emergency.

We recognize that the system of money bond plays a role in the deadliness of Cook County Jail, as it incarcerates people for ransom without genuine regard for their and their communities’ ability to pay, heal, or stay safe. Therefore, we hope that the Illinois Supreme Court will swiftly resume the full implementation of the Pretrial Fairness Act, which will abolish money bond, ensuring that fewer people across the state are placed in the brutal, inhumane conditions of pretrial jailling.

However, Chicago Community Bond Fund is clear that these overdue changes do not go far enough. Even after full implementation there will still be thousands of people subjected to the racist, classist, gendered violence and isolation of pretrial jailing. No matter what charges people have been accused of, we wholly denounce the use of pretrial incarceration, as we know that this deadly practice has entirely failed to bring safety and justice for survivors of harm. Instead, pretrial incarceration agitates the root causes of violence, makes people lose housing and jobs, extracts resources from families with expensive commissary, all while placing people in a traumatizing institutional environment built around punishment, not repair.

We know this has been and will continue to be a long and exhausting fight. Sometimes there can be feelings of helplessness and exhaustion in the face of such massive violence and seemingly unending grief in our communities. But together, all of us can help care for one another and work towards a world without jails and prisons. 

1 – Give support by following the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice and Coalition to End Money Bond and join calls to action as we wait for the Pretrial Fairness Act to be implemented, and upon implementation, continue to defend it against attacks.

2 – Get involved through Chicago Community Jail Support and volunteer to assist those being released from Cook County Jail and their loved ones with tangible support. More info on other ways to follow and support CCJS here.

3 – Follow and support CCBF as we continue to provide post-release support to over 200 folks who have been bonded out, as well as continued legal advocacy and organizing to implement and protect the Pretrial Fairness Act.

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