LITTLE VILLAGE — Cook County Jail detainees who have been cleared for release by a judge are forced to remain behind bars because the county has run out of electronic monitoring devices, according to community advocates and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.
The shortage of devices stems from supply issues caused by the economic shutdown, as well as the dramatic rise in detainees ordered onto electronic monitoring as a condition of their bail, the sheriff’s office said in a statement Thursday.
Officials said the county assigned its last electronic monitoring unit Tuesday night.
“For weeks, we have been warning our fellow stakeholders that we are nearing the limits of the program,” the statement read. “Any new [electronic monitoring] orders will result in defendants being held at the jail — a result that threatens to undo the successes we have achieved in slowing the spread of the virus.”
Cook County Jail is one of the largest clusters of coronavirus cases in the country, according to the New York Times.
More than 500 people currently incarcerated at the jail have been infected with coronavirus. Of them, 264 detainees are currently sick, including 10 who are being treated at local hospitals. Another 255 detainees have recovered.
Seven detainees have died due to complications related to COVID-19.
Two correctional officers have also died from COVID-19, and 98 officers are currently sick with the disease. Nearly 260 sheriff’s employees have previously tested positive but have recovered and returned to work.
The Chicago Community Bond Fund has been working since March to push the county to release as many detainees as possible due to the rapid spread of coronavirus within the jail, where advocates say social distancing is impossible.
Since the pandemic hit Chicago, the sheriff’s office collaborated with the Cook County State’s Attorney, the public defender’s office, and the courts to reduce the jail population so detainees could safely social distance outside the jail.
The number of detainees in jail has reduced around 25 percent in recent months to just over 4,000.
But both the sheriff’s office and the Bond Fund have raised concerns that Cook County judges were ordering electronic monitoring for too many detainees — an increase of about 700 since the stay-at-home order began in March — creating a shortage in devices.
Matthew McLoughlin, the Bond Fund’s program director, said many detainees did not initially have electronic monitoring as a condition for their pre-trial release. Since the courts began an expedited bond review process in March in an effort to drastically reduce the jail population, judges began freely issuing electronic monitoring conditions for detainees having their bond reduced.
“Because they didn’t have that money and they had to go through the bond review process, they were given electronic monitoring as a condition that would not have been there otherwise,” McLoughlin said.
Sheriff’s data shows 3,167 are on electronic monitoring as of May 7.
“An unknown number of people ordered to [electronic monitoring] by judges will instead remain incarcerated in Cook County Jail, where their lives will be at risk only because the county cannot provide the conditions of release,” the Bond Fund said in a statement.
McLoughlin said the organization learned about the shortage this week, hampering their efforts to pay bond for two detainees ordered to go on electronic monitoring.
“If we pay their bond, we’d be in a position where the county is basically just sitting on the money while those people remain in Cook County Jail, which is obviously becoming an increasingly dangerous place,” McLoughlin said.
The sheriff’s office cannot free detainees until bond conditions are met. McLoughlin said defense attorneys now will have to ask the court to do a bond review for each detainee to drop the electronic monitoring requirement and hopefully reduce bond amounts, as well.
Sheriff’s officials said they’ve compiled a list of people ordered to be on electronic monitoring, and are appealing to the courts, Cook County State’s Attorney and the public defenders office to “review these cases to determine whether it is appropriate to remove individuals from the program.”
“The solution to this crisis cannot simply be more equipment,” the sheriff’s office said.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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