Cook County sheriff says jail nearly full - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Cook County sheriff says jail nearly full

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says the jail is nearly full, and he's concerned the facility will be bursting at the seams as summer months approach and arrests typically rise with the mercury.

Late last week, the jail at 27th and California was almost 96 percent full, with a daily population of 9,721. The capacity is about 10,150.

Dart says this level of crowding would not be a problem if this were September when the jail population tends to drop off, but as we approach summer, the jail population seems to swell. He's bracing for another 600 to 1,000 inmates by the end of summer as crime ticks up and more are arrested.

Most of the people locked up in Cook County Jail are awaiting trial.

"The courts are not keeping up with the volume coming in, they're just not," Dart says.

Sheriff Tom Dart is calling out the courts. He says Chief Judge Timothy Evans has to do more on that side of the overcrowding equation.

"Do cases need to be moved more quickly? Yes. Do people have to handle more cases than they have in the past? Yea they do and they shouldn't complain about it because people get paid very well," Dart says. "And so they have to do that. Should there be more electronic monitoring given to people? Absolutely there should be."

Dart estimates if judges gave electronic monitoring to more people arrested for low level crimes, it would free up about 400 beds, which he calls the much-needed "breathing room." It would also cost only $30 per day per inmate, compared to $145 to lock them up.

Judge Evans did not respond to our request for comment, but County Commissioners are closely monitoring the situation.

"We cannot jeopardize public safety, and I think what the County Board is saying to both the Sheriff and the Chief Judge is there's got to be a solution here," 13th District Commissioner Larry Suffredin says. "We know you just can't keep arresting people and having the jail expand and expand and expand."

On Tuesday, Commissioner Larry Suffredin postponed a legislative committee meeting to allow the sheriff and chief judge time to work out a solution.

According to Dart's office, the number of suspects awaiting trial went from 1,121 last year to, most recently, 819.

A federal judge is monitoring the jail overcrowding because of a federal lawsuit that does not allow the jail to have more inmates than they do beds. As of Tuesday, more than 200 are housed in other county jails.

Full statement by Circuit Court of Cook County Chief Judge Timonthy C. Evans:

"The federal court has provided the Cook County Sheriff with a solution to prevent jail overcrowding by giving him absolute authority to release, on his own, up to 1,500 detainees on electronic monitoring at any given time.

"According to Illinois law, the purpose of a bail hearing is for a judge to decide how best to ensure the return of the defendant to court and to protect public safety. The purpose of a bail hearing is not to reduce the jail population.

"Judges are required to follow and uphold the law. They also are required to consider the unique circumstances of each person appearing before them. By state law, judges in Cook County are allowed to use electronic monitoring as a means to ensure a defendant will return to court after a bail hearing, but only when a judge finds it is in the interest of justice and due process, will he or she condition a defendant's release on electronic monitoring."

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