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Cook County hit with suit alleging 'cruel, unusual' jail conditions

Thursday, June 12, 2014
Progress Illinois

A class action lawsuit was filed against Cook County Wednesday alleging "barbaric treatment" of pre-trial detainees at the county jail.

The suit, filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, was brought by Gregory E. Kulis & Associates, Ltd. and the Uptown People's Law Center on behalf of Marcus Malewski, a pre-trial detainee who was allegedly kept in the Cook County Jail's holding areas between May 12 and May 16 of this year.

Malewski was allegedly not fed and did not have access to a shower or a toilet for most of the time he was in a holding pen as a pre-trial detainee, according to the complaint. The suit also alleges Malewski, as well as 50 other pre-trial detainees, had to sleep on the floor because beds were not made available to them.

“Marcus was even denied access to a toilet," said Greg Kulis, one of the attorneys representing Malewski. "As a result, he was forced to urinate on himself, and then left to sit in his urine soaked clothing for more than a day before he was finally allowed to take a shower. This sort of treatment should never be allowed in a civilized society.”

The suit claims jail guards falsely reported in the jail's computer system that the pre-trial detainees had been placed in cells, though the men were allegedly not assigned to one. Instead, the men "were herded from holding pen to holding pen, day after day, and only allowed to sleep on the floor for a couple of hours each night in an area of the jail under construction," according to a news release from Malewski's attorneys.

The defendants named in the complaint against Cook County include Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and Cara Smith, executive director of the Cook County Department of Corrections.

The suit alleges that Cook County has had a long habit of underfunding the Cook County Jail to the point where there are now too few beds for all the pre-trial detainees entering the jail. Additionally, the complaint accuses Dart and Smith of putting in place practices and policies that have "allowed these men to be deprived of the basic necessities of life," according to the release.

The suit seeks class certification so all pre-trial detainees who have endured these alleged "cruel and unusual" conditions can possibly receive damages for their injuries.

“The county and the sheriff have been aware of these conditions for decades," stressed Alan Mills, another attorney representing Malewski. "While the jail has long been overcrowded, what was done to these men—none of whom had been convicted of any crime—is unprecedented, but not surprising. The real problem is that we lock up far too many people. There are thousands of people suffering from mental illness, thousands of low level non-violent drug offenders are sent to Cook County Jail every year. We need to break our addiction to incarceration, or these horrors will continue to happen.”

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