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Preckwinkle Tackles Jail Crowding with Plan to Release Nonviolent Inmates

By Ted Cox | October 17, 2012 5:13pm | Updated on November 19, 2012 3:30pm
 Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is working to trim the population at Cook County Jail.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is working to trim the population at Cook County Jail.
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Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

CHICAGO — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has hired two public defenders specifically charged with identifying low-risk detainees to help reduce the inmate population at Cook County Jail.

The public defenders will file motions to reconsider incarceration for non-violent offenders at Cook County Jail who have not previously been able to make bond and see if they can earn their release.

The county has also contracted four employees from the Safer Foundation, an agency committed to reducing criminal recidivism, to review past detainees who might be eligible for release under such a program.

“Lowering the jail population and reducing the exorbitant costs associated with detention have been one of my top priorities, and it will remain a focus until we see a significant and sustainable decrease in the population,” Preckwinkle said in a statement. “The cost to taxpayers is too high, and the negative consequences for non-violent offenders who cannot afford bail are too great for us to grow complacent about this critical issue.”

Cook County Jail has been prone to overcrowding, resulting in federal restrictions the county has been working to get out from under. Daily population averaged just under 9,000 last year according to a Loyola University study, and Preckwinkle made it a key campaign pledge to cut daily population by removing non-violent offenders. She has cited figures showing that holding an inmate at the county jail costs $143 a day.

“President Preckwinkle continues to push forward on key criminal justice issues facing Cook County by persistently fighting to incarcerate only the appropriate violent offenders, lowering the population at the jail and the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center and using tax dollars efficiently," said Paula Wolff, senior executive at Chicago Metropolis 2020, a business and civic organization. "Her work is essential to criminal justice reform and being both tough and smart on crime.”

Preckwinkle also credited Sheriff Tom Dart for creating a space streamlining the bond process and making it easier for detainees to consult with attorneys as they attempt to qualify for early release. Construction of that space on the Department of Corrections campus is expected to be completed in January.