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Cook County sheriff announces jail consolidation

Friday, January 29, 2016
Daily Herald
by Steve Zalusky

Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart will be closing its oldest jail building on the South Side of Chicago while placing all female inmates in one renovated building.

Dart said Friday he'll start closing Division 1 of the jail campus at 27th Street and California Avenue on Feb. 8. It's a maximum-security building and the oldest on the campus, opened in 1929. The inmates there will be spread among the remaining buildings.

And beginning Monday, the primary female divisions -- Division 3 and Division 17 -- will shut down, with all the women moved to Division 4, which had been temporarily closed and undergoing renovations for the past two years.

Dart touted the moves as ways to cut operating costs and more efficiently house and care for inmates.

"These moves signify wins for county taxpayers who will benefit from reduced operational costs, including overtime, at the jail as well as our sheriff's deputies, who will benefit from more efficient staffing models across the compound," Dart said in a statement.

With the three buildings' closures, four Cook County jail buildings will no longer house inmates. Division 5 shut down about two years ago.

Staffers in the closed buildings also will be redistributed among the remaining buildings.

Last fall some jail guards, through Teamsters Local 700, filed a grievance saying their move out of Division 5 violated their contract, theChicago Sun-Times reported. They demanded extra pay. Dart was fighting the claim.

While the building closures mixes maximum- and minimum-security inmates more than before -- especially minimum-security female inmates from Division 17 joining Division 3 inmates of all classifications, the safety of the inmates will not be affected, said Cara Smith, chief of policy for the Cook County sheriff's office.

"The closures of these buildings will not affect the way we classify detainees," Smith said.

The minimum-security Division 17 had a strong emphasis on vocational programming, drug treatment and mental health counseling. That programming will carry over to the Division 4 building, the sheriff's office said.

"Detainees that are minimum-security will continue to be managed in that capacity," Smith said.

Smith said reducing overtime costs is one of the major benefits of the consolidation.

"If we're able to close certain divisions, that staff can be redeployed and that will significantly impact our overtime, which is tremendous," she said.

The sheriff's office said increased court-ordered electronic monitoring, an alternative to pretrial incarceration for defendants whom judges deem safe to remain within the community as their cases progress, helped bring the consolidation. More than 2,300 men and women are now assigned to electronic monitoring, up from an average of about 520 in 2009.

"We've made great progress in addressing unjust incarceration and communicating to the public that pretrial detainment should be used as a last resort for people who pose clear dangers to society, not as a default mechanism for the poor and mentally ill," Dart said in a statement.

The Division 17 building had been operating at full capacity, housing 140 women, but the population at Division 3 has been declining, the sheriff's office said, at about 56 percent capacity out of 346 beds.

Division 1 had been functioning at 44 percent capacity, with about 550 inmates for 1,248 beds. The sheriff's office said its archaic infrastructure frequently required expensive repairs.

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