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4 independent monitors to be hired for Cook County Jail

Thursday, May 13, 2010
Chicago Tribune
by Tribune Staff Report

Four outside monitors are to be hired to make regular inspections of Cook County Jail and report back to a judge under an agreement announced today stemming from a federal probe of conditions at the jail.

The agreement also calls for the hiring of more than 600 additional correctional officers over the next year -- something the Cook County board already agreed to do in March to settle the federal probe.

In addition, it calls for stepped-up inspections for contraband and more video surveillance of inmate housing areas.
Compliance will be overseen by four "mutually selected, independent monitors. . . who will exercise broad duties, respectively, over corrections, medical care, mental health care, and the physical plant," the office added.

The monitors must issue status reports to the federal court every six months.

The agreement stems a 2008 Justice Department report that concluded a culture existed at Cook County Jail that led to systematic inmate beatings and medical care was so poor that some inmates had died.

The investigation found that three jail inmates committed suicide in the first four months of that year alone.  The investigation also identified preventable inmate deaths and a preventable amputation due to inadequate medical care.

In addition, it detailed "incidents of unchecked inmate violence in 2006 that resulted in two inmate deaths," the U.S. attorney's office said.

The investigation concluded that inmates were "regularly subjected to inappropriate and excessive use of physical force by jail staff, even when inmates posed no threat to anyone's safety or to the jail's security."

Even before the report, however, County Board President Todd Stroger's administration -- along with Sheriff Tom Dart's top brass and Health and Hospitals System officials -- had begun to work with federal authorities to come up with a plan to address the jail's longstanding problems.

The agreement also carefully delineates other measures aimed at improving conditions. For example, it requires that photographs or video be taken of all injuries allegedly caused by use of force.

Under the agreement, the Cook County Department of Corrections must hire, train and place on duty at least 448 new corrections officers by Dec. 31,and an additional 174 corrections officers by March 30, 2011.


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