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Cook County sheriff’s office runs out of electronic monitoring bracelets
The lack of devices could strain the sheriff’s office’s ability to socially distance detainees, leading to more COVID-19 cases, inmate advocates say.
Thursday, May 07, 2020 Chicago Sun-Times by Matthew Hendrickson
he Cook County sheriff’s office has run out of electronic monitoring bracelets, worrying inmate advocates, who say the lack of devices could lead to too many arrestees languishing in jail during the coronavirus pandemic.
The lack of bracelets, which was mentioned by prosecutors during court hearings Thursday, could grow worse as the weather warms, straining the sheriff’s office’s ability to socially distance detainees and leading to more contracting COVID-19 at Cook County Jail, advocates said.
The sheriff’s office, meanwhile, acknowledged the lack of devices, saying its inventory of bracelets had been exhausted Tuesday night and supply issues with companies that provide the bracelets has prevented the office from acquiring more.
“As we have reached our program capacity, any new EM orders will result in defendants being held at the jail — a result that threatens to undo the successes we have achieved in slowing the spread of the virus,” a sheriff’s spokeswoman said.
In a letter to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and others, Sheriff Tom Dart wrote, “For years, my office has carried the burden of processing and monitoring more and more criminal defendants in the community, with more complex public safety considerations, and all while maintaining static staffing numbers. This need for an immediate solution has accelerated due to the introduction of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The use of electronic monitoring increased as the county tried to reduce the jail population during the health crisis, according to Sharlyn Grace, executive director of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, a nonprofit that posts bond for destitute detainees.
“Given the consequences right now of people being jailed, we can’t allow a supply issue to be putting people at risk of getting sick, or death,” Grace said.
The number of those on electronic monitoring has “exploded” in Cook County to roughly 3100 — an increase of more than 700 since Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s shelter-at-home order took effect in March, Grace said.
The lack of bracelets was touched upon at a hearing Thursday when Judge Thaddeus Wilson recommended a 26-year-old man charged with misdemeanor domestic battery be given the next electronic monitoring bracelet available.
Anthony Vazquez has been in custody since April 26 when he was arrested for a domestic-related incident involving his sister in west suburban Hoffman Estates, according to court records.
Vazquez was ordered released on his own recognizance but because he had a separate arrest warrant on another case, his bond was set at $5,000.
His family tried to post his bond twice last week and was told it was not possible.
Vazquez’s attorney, Tracey Harkins, filed an emergency petition this week, accusing Dart of unlawfully holding Vazquez at the jail.
During Vazquez’s hearing Thursday, Francis Catania, an assistant state’s attorney in the office’s Civil Action Bureau, which represents the sheriff’s office in civil matters, agreed to allow Vazquez’s relatives to post bond. But Catania said there was a lack of available electronic monitoring bracelets, so even if Vazquez’s family had the money, he still would have to stay in jail.
There are about 500 detainees who would be in the same boat if they were able to post bond and were ordered on electronic monitoring, Grace said.
Vazquez’s sister, Taneesha Romero, 25, said her brother has asthma and she is worried what will happen if he gets COVID-19 at the jail, where more than 500 detainees have tested positive and seven inmates died from complications related to the virus.
“It’s terrifying,” Romero said. “We don’t know what will happen to him. ...It feels like a trap to keep him there.”
Asked about the shortage of electronic monitoring bracelets, a state’s attorney’s office spokeswoman said officials would “continue to review matters on a case by case basis.”
Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ spokesman Pat Milhizer said judges would be willing to work with prosecutors and defense attorneys to identify defendants who were given electronic monitoring bracelets before the pandemic to determine if those individuals still need them, freeing up more devices.
“This is obviously a concern given that the use of electronic monitoring has helped reduce the jail population before and during the pandemic,” Milhizer said in a statement.