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County Jail ships off troublemakers
Prison reform group critical of sending hard cases to Kankakee, Jefferson counties

Monday, June 30, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times

A jail monitoring group is concerned that Cook County inmates have become a bumper crop for smaller counties.

Cook County is temporarily farming out troublemaking inmates to the Kankakee and Jefferson county jails.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart sees the moves as a way to boost jail security, his No. 1 priority, said his chief of staff, Bill Cunningham.

But Charles Fasano of the John Howard Society for Prison Reform said the transfers make it harder for attorneys and relatives to visit inmates, a concern the group has reported to a federal judge overseeing jail crowding.

"Moving your problems around is not considered good correctional practice," Fasano said.

Cook County has agreed to pay Kankakee County up to $1.5 million and Jefferson County up to $920,000 to house Cook County inmates between October 2007 and October 2008.

Kankakee County gets $60 per inmate per day and Jefferson County $50 per day.

Cunningham said he does not expect Cook County to spend its entire budget in either county.

That's because Cook County does not currently need the smaller jails to relieve crowding. The Cook County jail population is averaging 9,200 inmates -- below its capacity of 9,600 inmates.

So, the only inmates getting bused from Cook County to Kankakee and Jefferson counties are troublemakers, Cunningham said.

For instance, Kankakee and Jefferson counties accepted inmates from Cook County after major gang fights May 13 and June 18, Cunningham said.

On Friday, there were 32 Cook County inmates in Kankakee County and 41 in Jefferson County -- 279 miles south of Chicago.

Cook County has provided gang-intelligence training to officials in those jails, Cunningham said. Kankakee and Jefferson counties are equipped to handle Chicago's most hard-core gang-bangers, he said.

"We've had no security problems," Cunningham said.

Cook County's inmates are big business for Kankakee and Jefferson counties. At the end of January, there were an average of 54 Jefferson County inmates, 39 Cook County inmates and 14 U.S. Marshals Service inmates in the Jefferson County jail.

Jefferson County officials received $20,000 in jail income that month -- instead of a projected $195,000 -- because their Cook County inmate counts were dwindling.

That prompted worried Jefferson County officials to discuss ways to shore up their budget, such as asking the federal government to house illegal immigrants there, too.

Dart visited Jefferson County in February, reassuring its officials that Cook County plans to house inmates there "for years to come."

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