LITTLE VILLAGE — In advance of a planned lawsuit against Cook County demanding changes in the way inmates are handled, community groups toured county jail Thursday morning.
Afterward, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called for the "immediate evaluation and release of pretrial detainees" charged with nonviolent offenses who cannot meet bail and already have served time equal to the amount of their bail.
Jackson, local media personalities, 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti and members of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition toured the jail with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who said he agrees that changes are overdue.
"When you have a process that doesn't make any sense, it sort of invites [a lawsuit]," Dart said Thursday after the private tour. "As I can tell you from walking through this place all too often ... case after case you come across, you're left scratching your heading thinking, 'Why is this person in here? They shouldn't be here.'"
According to Jackson and the Sheriff's Office, 5 percent of Cook County Jail detainees have been awaiting trial for more than two years because they cannot afford to pay a cash bond. Bond hearings at the jail were found to take about 25 seconds per person, Dart said.
"When you have them doing it all in 20-something seconds, how in God's name can you have a thoughtful process?" Dart asked. "There has to be a systemic approach to the way cases are handled. We're clogging up the system with the wrong people."
A refined process of collaboration between entities such as the Chief Judge's Office, Cook County public defenders, police and the state's attorney is needed to improve the system, Jackson said.
Jackson said that 80 percent of pretrial detainees affected are black and Latino.
"These agencies are not working together," Jackson said. "If there were plans to reconstruct Englewood and Roseland, a plan to reconstruct Lawndale and Austin and Pilsen, [pretrial detainees] could be back rebuilding ... working toward reconstruction and not recidivism."
The costs of keeping these residents in jail — such as the 57 pretrial detainees who have been in the jail for more than five years — exceeds the cost of electronically monitoring them at home while they await a hearing by about $70 per day, per individual, Jackson added.
There are about 9,200 men and women in Cook County Jail, a population Dart said should be closer to 6,000.