The Cook County Jail
is a step closer to being free from federal oversight, under an
agreement between the federal government and the county that the U.S.
Department of Justice filed Thursday in federal court.
county, this has been a long time coming.
In 1974, a group of
inmates protested crowded jail conditions by filing a federal
class-action lawsuit against the sheriff. The result was a court order —
the Duran consent decree — that dictates how the sheriff must
control the jail population, in part to ensure that inmates don't have
to sleep on floors.
In paving a path to end the Duran
decree, the DOJ agreement mandates new procedures to address concerns
raised in a 2008 federal investigation that determined the jail
systematically violated the constitutional rights of inmates.
investigation found instances of jail staff using excessive force
against inmates and failing to protect them from harm by other inmates.
The probe also concluded that the staff didn't provide adequate medical
or mental care, leading to several inmate deaths.
Though the new
agreement focuses on problems at the jail, Sheriff Thomas
J. Dart has expected and wanted it.
"We welcome an agreement
that allows us to dissolve the costly, 35-year-old Duran
consent decree and which properly recognizes the sheriff can only be
responsible for corrections issues, laying responsibility for medical
care and maintenance at the feet of the bureau of health and board
president, respectively," Dart said in a statement.
referring to the fact that if the deal is approved by U.S. District
M. Kendall, the Duran decree would end. Then, federal
oversight would be temporary and focus on the county departments that
are responsible for each of the three aspects of running the facility:
inmate control, building maintenance and inmate health care.
of monitoring the sheriff for all of the conditions of the jail,
federal authorities would monitor only the sheriff for how his office
handles the inmate population. The County Board president would be
monitored for facility maintenance, and the county health system would
be scrutinized for the medical treatment of inmates.
requires the sheriff's office to hire 448 new correctional officers and
have them on duty by the end of the year. An additional 174
correctional officers must be added to the staff by March 30, 2011.
sheriff also has to install more video cameras to the common areas of
the jail and conduct more inspections to find contraband and weapons in
jail cells. In addition, inmates who are hurt by staff must have their
Staff at the jail hospital must develop
policies to ensure that inmates receive constitutionally adequate
medical and mental health care, including suicide prevention.
are pleased that with the cooperation of Sheriff Dart and the county, we
have achieved a rigorous, comprehensive agreement that will remedy the
unconstitutional conditions that were found at the Cook County Jail,"
U.S. Attorney Patrick
J. Fitzgerald said in a statement. "Inmates are entitled to
conditions of confinement that pass constitutional muster."
ensure that the county complies with the agreement, four independent
monitors will be appointed. The sheriff, the County Board president and
the health department could be free from federal oversight if they
maintain compliance with the new deal for 18 months.
statement, Dart said one of his top goals since taking office in 2006
was to figure out how to free the jail from the Duran consent
"My next goal," Dart said, "is to build upon all that
we've done so far at the jail so that after 18 months of compliance by
my office, we will be able to publicly announce that decades of costly
federal oversight at the Cook County Jail have finally come to an end."
of Friday, no date had been set for Kendall to consider the new