Capacity at the Cook County jail will be cut to 9,100 beds from 10,000, in a cutback expected to save up to $15 million a year.
Sheriff Tom Dart on Thursday announced the first
significant cutbacks in decades at the jail, thanks largely to a
reduction in crime.
One 600-bed building has already been closed, and
another 300-bed building will be closed in April, Dart said. That will
cut capacity to 9,100 and will likely mean Cook County jail will no
longer be the largest single-site jail in the nation, the sheriff's
"At a time when every government agency is looking for
ways to cut costs and save taxpayer dollars, it makes no sense to keep
half-empty buildings operating at full capacity," Dart said in a news
conference at the once-notorious jail at 26th Street and California in
He said this also lays a foundation to save more tax dollars in the future.
Charles Fasano, who recently left his position as
director of the prisons and jails program at the John Howard
Association of Illinois, a watchdog agency, said he was "delighted" by
the announcement. "We've been recommending that for several years," he
Fasano praised Dart's work, but added, "He's been blessed that admission numbers are down."
The average daily population at Cook County jail peaked
at 11,082 in 2002, when inmates were sleeping on the floors and the
sheriff's office was straining under the decades-old Duran Decree on
conditions at the jail. Yet, while 106,000 people were processed at the
jail in 2004, last year that number dropped to 86,000, and the average
daily population was 9,039.
Dart said the average daily population was 8,400 in
February and stood at 8,600 as he made the announcement. That led him
and jail director Tony Godinez to come up with an "under capacity"
plan, a counterpart to the previous "over capacity" plan.
The division closings will allow 175 corrections
employees to move to other posts and reduce overtime, Dart said. That
could save $10.5 million in salaries and benefits and $2 million in
overtime. Along with savings in utilities and maintenance costs and
food, Dart said the cost reduction could approach $15 million a year.
He cautioned it was contingent on the jail population
remaining low with no spikes in crime. He first mentioned the
possibility of closing down divisions during the recent primary
campaign, when he added that they could potentially be reopened in four
or five days if needed.
According to the sheriff's office, Chicago has reported
decreases in violent crime, property crime and crime overall in recent
years, a trend general across the nation, despite the tough economy.