As September begins, Scott Kurtovich will have
to figure out how to ease the crowded conditions at a Cook County Jail
that's nearly full.
"Come Labor Day, we're going to be at that
98, 99 percent capacity," said Kurtovich, the first assistant executive
director in the sheriff's department.
At least he has options with two downstate jails that welcome Cook County inmates.
a program that's in its second year, the sheriff's department sends
some inmates to jails in Kankakee and Jefferson counties.
last week, 39 inmates were in Jefferson County in southern Illinois and
another five were in Kankakee County. Compared to the roughly 9,700
inmates that were in the Cook County Jail last week, that may not seem
like a lot of inmates.
But the maneuver helps the sheriff's department avoid having to deal with physical and legal fights.
because when inmates have to sleep on floors, fights can break out if
one inmate steps on another. And legal because, when an inmate doesn't
have a bed, the sheriff's department technically is violating a federal
"Prior to having Kankakee and Jefferson as options, we violated that quite frequently," Kurtovich said.
addition to promoting a safer jail, sending inmates downstate presents
cheaper lock-up costs than what the department spends at the facility
on California Avenue.
The county spends an average of about $125
per day to house an inmate in its facility, compared to the $50 charged
by Jefferson County and the $60 paid to Kankakee County.
there are more savings, though they can't actually be measured, in the
reduced liability from having a less crowded jail, Kurtovich said.
every inmate represents a potential liability for hurting someone else
or getting injured himself, a more crowded jail can present the
possibility of having more personal-injury lawsuits filed by inmates.
And if a correctional officer gets hurt trying to break up a brawl,
then there's another workers' compensation claim for the county to
To prepare for the Labor Day weekend, Kurtovich will
send inmates downstate who represent a medium-security risk and who
don't have a court date for at least 30 days, he said. Inmates who
represent a high risk for behavioral problems — gang members and anyone
else who may be too aggressive with others — also could be sent to the
But low-risk inmates never experience this
program. Cook County Jail supervisors prefer keeping them around to
handle tasks such as serving meals, cutting grass, mopping floors and
In the past, the debate over how to address crowded jail conditions reached circuit court.
A year ago at this time, Sheriff Thomas J. Dart
accused bond court judges of "either intentionally or unintentionally"
undermining his efforts to reduce crowding by issuing only one
recognizance bond to the roughly 1,500 defendants they saw in a week.
This came at a time when Dart was at odds with Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans
over who was responsible for placing defendants on house arrest through
electronic monitoring. Dart said judges were in the best position to
make the call, and Evans maintained that a federal consent decree
leaves that decision to the sheriff.
A compromise was reached
last winter when Evans established a pretrial services department in
Central Bond Court that makes recommendations to judges on electronic
monitoring candidates who are awaiting trial.
Last week, the county had 256 defendants on electronic monitoring.
who has been with the sheriff's department for 24 years, remembers when
that figure was closer to 1,600 defendants. If that many inmates were
subjected to house arrest today, Kurtovich said, he wouldn't have to
send inmates to other counties.
At a cost of about $50 per inmate
each day, electronic monitoring costs roughly the same as sending
inmates downstate. And it's less expensive than housing inmates in Cook
That's a strong argument to consider expanding the
use of house arrest, said county Commissioner Earlean Collins, who
chairs the County Board's Criminal Justice Committee.
"I'm constantly pushing it and pushing it because we are under a federal court decree," Collins said.
makes a lot more sense because it's the jail population that we have to
adhere to, and you can also almost automatically expect an increase in
arrests in the summertime because you have all these teenagers and
college students out on the street," Collins said. "And compounding the
situation is the job market. There aren't as many jobs anymore. So
you're going to have more incidents, and they still have to go to jail."
And when they get there, the inmates will find out whether they're one of those headed to a rural county.
we're doing is actually saving the taxpayers' money because we're
running a safer and securer jail," Kurtovich said about the
department's use of the downstate program. "But if we were at 80
percent [jail] capacity, we would not need this."email@example.com