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Low-risk inmates begin exiting Cook County Jail amid coronavirus threat

Friday, March 20, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Megan Crepeau and Annie Sweeney

Chicago Tribune |

Mar 20, 2020 | 6:36 PM

Detainees wait for court appearances in a holding cell at the Cook County Jail in December 2019.(E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)

A number of Cook County Jail detainees — including “serial stowaway” Marilyn Hartman — have been quietly ordered released this week to help relieve jail crowding amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The hearings to formally release the detainees began this week, unannounced and separate from the two duty courtrooms that remain open to hear emergency matters during a widespread court shutdown.

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli said she has spent the past week working with Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Sheriff Tom Dart on the releases.

Campanelli said she sought information from jail officials on detainees who fall into specific categories, including those serving nonviolent offenses, are elderly, pregnant or facing health issues. She then worked with the state’s attorney’s office to secure up to 100 releases in the suburbs and Chicago.

 

“We are working closely with the state’s attorney and the sheriff’s office,” Campanelli said. “We are all working together.”

Campanelli, however, said their work was not over.

“I am absolutely happy that we have gotten some people out," she continued. "We have to put our heads together and really delve into this on a much bigger scale.”

With that in mind, Campanelli has filed a request for the mass release of detainees in several categories, including people with underlying health conditions, pregnant women, those detained for nonviolent offenses and anyone who is locked up since they cannot afford to pay bail.

“Bold, forceful action is a necessity here in Cook County, not only for the health and well-being of all those confined in the Jail but also for the safety of the larger community,” Campanelli wrote in the filing.

No case of COVID-19 has yet been identified inside the sprawling jail complex near 26th Street and California Avenue. The jail is one of the largest pretrial detention centers in America, regularly housing more than 5,000 inmates.

But advocates who have been pushing for the releases said the potential problem was large and required urgent action.

“At this point we’re very worried there is already infection that will spread rapidly,” said Sharlyn Grace, the executive director of the Chicago Community Bond Fund. "It’s about the safety of people in the jail but also the entire community of Cook County because it is about slowing the pace of infection. People are constantly cycling in and out.”

The defendants themselves were not present for hearings on their releases in the quietly held court proceedings Friday. Due to coronavirus concerns, Cook County sheriffs have cut down on the number of detainees brought over from the jail to the courtrooms.

Among Friday’s releases was Hartman, 68, known as the “serial stowaway” due to her long history of trying to sneak onto flights in Chicago and around the country.

Hartman’s attorney, who has long maintained that she is not a public threat and should not be in jail, has consistently fought to seek her release on bond in her various cases. This time, it took the extraordinary circumstance of a global pandemic to get her out from behind bars.

Hartman was ordered released on a recognizance bond Friday, meaning she can leave the jail without paying bail. Her next hearing will be at the end of April, after courts are expected to resume normal operations.

Hartman had been held without bail since October after she was arrested at O’Hare yet again just as she was trying to pass the second of two security checkpoints, prosecutors have said. The arrest violated her probation sentence for sneaking past O’Hare security in January 2018, boarding a jet and flying to London’s Heathrow Airport without a ticket.

Judge Peggy Chiampas ordered her held without bail on the probation violation.

Previous efforts to get Hartman out of custody have been coupled with assurances that she has a place to stay in a supportive environment where she can be monitored for any attempts to sneak away to an airport. It was unclear where Hartman would stay after being released Friday.

Hartman has been accused since early 2014 of trying to sneak onto flights in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Arizona and Minnesota in addition to repeated attempts in Chicago.

mcrepeau@chicagotribune.com

asweeney@chicagotribune.com



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