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Home > Press Page

Wednesday, December 23, 2015In March 2015, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced a campaign to take on the system that actively facilitates the unjust incarceration of the mentally ill and poor in Cook County. He implored the public and criminal justice stakeholders to imagine the reality of being stuck in the revolving door of this broken system and to join him in his fight for a more thoughtful approach.

Sheriff Dart’s campaign crested in August when his proposal of a pilot program known as the “Rocket Docket” officially became law. The Rocket Docket ensures that non-violent defendants charged with low-level crimes of survival such as retail theft or criminal trespassing will have their cases disposed of within 30 days from assignment by the presiding judge or be released from the jail pending their trial.

While the Rocket Docket represents a local breakthrough and potentially a national model, unjust incarceration of the mentally ill and poor remains at a crisis point in Cook County. Too many people continue to be incarcerated pre-trial, for far too long. Through the efforts of many, we have ended overcrowding in all divisions except for the hospital division for the mentally ill. Whether viewed cumulatively or as a snapshot in time, the numbers clearly reflect an urgent need for additional reform:

In addition to incarceration itself, each admission to Cook County Jail triggers an assembly line of daily accommodations – food, medication, sanitary supplies, laundry, transportation, etc. This has critical ramifications for the Cook County taxpayers asked to subsidize the costs of running Cook County Jail as well as the 4,000 jail employees who work every day to keep this 24/7 operation running smoothly. In 2015…

“As the national discourse evolves towards a smarter approach to criminal justice, I’m gratified that the public is becoming increasingly cognizant of the unjust incarceration of the mentally ill and poor,” said Sheriff Dart. “Cook County can and should serve as an example for the rest of the country in 2016, and that starts with moving towards a humane and fiscally prudent approach to this critical issue.”


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