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Jail releases need closer look

Monday, July 04, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times

A day before Randy Rencher escaped from Cook County Jail, a spokesman for Sheriff Michael Sheahan seemed to have a plausible explanation for why inmates get out of jail without posting bond and then commit new crimes. Deciding who gets a "get out of jail free" card is a "difficult process," Bill Cunningham said. "We have excellent records people that are assigned this job at the jail, and they look at all new bookings who have come into jail and decide which are qualified for electronic monitoring and day monitoring."

Our inquiry was in response to an alarming expose by Sun-Times' staffer Stefano Esposito that revealed that at least three times this year, inmates awaiting trial have been released from jail without posting any bond and those inmates were later charged with murder. A day later, Rencher, 37, who had spent 12 of the last 17 years in state prison, sneaked into a guards' locker room, stole a correctional officer's uniform and escaped. Rencher was in jail on weapons and drug charges, but a clerk neglected to upgrade the jail's computer system to add a new home invasion charge. Had that happened, Rencher would have been ineligible for a medium-security program.

Rencher's criminal background, coupled with the clerk's error, raises questions about the current system. Although it has been 10 years since someone has escaped from the county jail, the circumstances surrounding Rencher's escape and Esposito's reporting on lapses in jail procedures mandate that officials conduct a full review of the jail's release program.

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