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County jail's guard shortage demands quick action

Sunday, January 08, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by Malcolm C. Young
Letter to the Editor

A correction to and comment on "Judge to County Board: 'It's time to step up,' hire guards" [news story, Dec. 29]: Your report of the dramatic court hearing in which U.S. District Judge George Marovich told Cook County commissioners to hire more jail guards was accurate with one exception: The author of the report documenting that the Cook County Jail is understaffed by 668 to 795 officers was MGT of America, not the John Howard Association of Illinois. The John Howard Association is the court-appointed monitor of conditions at the jail, and in that capacity provided estimates of staff shortages more than a year ago. The MGT of America Report is a highly detailed and qualitative staffing analysis commissioned by and for the Cook County Board of Commissioners. In addition to confirming previous estimates of staffing shortages, the report documented that 60 percent of the needed positions are required to serve functions vital to the safety of officers and inmates and required under the terms of the original consent decree. Judge Marovich was reacting to this report.

There was room for confusion about the source of the numbers as MGT of America was represented at the hearing by Michael Mahoney, a former president of the John Howard Association.

The John Howard Association agrees with MGT of America's findings as long as the jail is operated at its present levels. The situation is as urgent as Judge Marovich clearly stated it to be. Therefore, we remain deeply concerned about the day-to-day safety and conditions at the jail no matter the outcome of [the Dec. 28] hearing. Even if the county authorizes and the sheriff hires new staff tomorrow, under existing hiring and training constraints, the jail can add only about 250 new corrections officers each year. At this rate it will take close to three years to bring staffing up to the levels recommended by MGT of America.

Accordingly, as court monitor we have been urging the parties and all responsible officials to concurrently take several steps that can more immediately reduce the inmates at the jail. This is necessary in order to alleviate demands on current staff and to minimize risks to inmates. We do not believe that increasing staff levels at the jail, which is needed, will resolve the problems at the jail as quickly as they need be resolved.

Malcolm C. Young,
executive director,
John Howard Association of Illinois

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