DOJ Report Blasts Chicago Jail Conditions

A new Justice Department report on conditions at the Cook County jail in Chicago finds the conditions at the jail deplorable.

Cook County Jail does not meet minimum constitutional standards and routinely puts inmates at serious risk, U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald said Thursday at a news conference following the release of a scathing Justice Department report on the facility.

The jail falls well short of basic standards, Fitzgerald said, and inmates have been subjected to violence and poor medical care as a result. Among the chief concerns is that the jail fails to protect inmates against beatings, both by corrections officers and other prisoners.

Fitzgerald said "some guards have engaged in organized reprisals against inmates who insult them." Also,

Health care also is a serious problem, the Justice Department found. The report cited an example of an inmate who contracted sepsis from an untreated gunshot wound and died. Another had to have a limb amputated.

Go to jail, lose a limb or die? America. Prison Nation. [More...]

One example:

In one alleged incident cited in the report, guards in May 2006 beat an inmate so severely for refusing to obey orders that he needed to be taken to a top-level trauma center, where he was placed on a respirator.

According to the report, the inmate was wandering around the jail intake area, asking for his methadone, a legal drug that can be prescribed to heroin addicts to calm their addiction. A guard told him to return to his holding pen, and when he refused, more than one guard beat him, the report said.

He was hit with a radio, and a guard smashed the inmate's dentures under his boot when they fell out, it said. He sustained multiple broken bones and a collapsed lung, it said. "An especially high number of abuse of force allegations do emerge from" the intake area, the report said.

This is hardly the first time the Cook County jail has had a negative report on prisoner abuse.

The jail houses 9,800 inmates who are awaiting trial -- meaning they have not yet been convicted of a crime, they just can't make bond. The investigation that led to the report lasted 17 months.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Where is Obama?? (1.00 / 1) (#9)
    by jimakaPPJ on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 07:13:52 PM EST
    It's his town. His state.

    Isn't he responsible???

    If Fitz expects this report to be taken (none / 0) (#1)
    by scribe on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 01:57:58 PM EST
    seriously, indictments should follow.  Tomorrow.

    Otherwise, the Chicago PD will keep on seconding its people to work at Gitmo and share their experience with the rest of the jail force there.  After all, in Bush-world, the ability to torture is considered skilled labor, something worth passing on.

    And, further, if official corruption cases are worthy of prosecution (and I'm not saying they aren't), then official beating cases are, too.  Actually, they're probably simpler to prosecute than a corruption case.

    My guess is that the Sheriff and the county (none / 0) (#10)
    by JSN on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 07:58:39 PM EST
    officials are dragging their feet. They were given a chance
    to correct the problems and evidently some low or no cost improvements were made.

     At least some of the violent incidents are being reported (there are jails that only report deaths and they would not report them if they could avoid it). Deaths in confinement are supposed to be reported to the DOJ but it does not appear that the penalties for not reporting are very serious.

    The have been a few reports by BJS on deaths in confinement and it appears that all of the state prisons are cooperating but many jails are not. Police lockup are probably the most dangerous to the inmates because of the high suicides rate within the first few hours of arrest.

    I was amazed that the Cook County jail population was so low. I had heard that Illinois has reduced the number of persons incarcerated and I guess it must be true.


    I've seen commentary reminding me (none / 0) (#2)
    by Joelarama on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 02:05:02 PM EST
    that despite what we spend on healthcare, the U.S. is at or near the bottom in terms of life expectancy.

    I wonder to what extent having a huge jail population contributes to that statistic.

    I wouldn't be surprised if it contributes, (none / 0) (#4)
    by scribe on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 02:13:11 PM EST
    but breaking out the proportion would be mind-numbingly difficult.

    What's more egregious - and should be shocking - is the expense governments are put to, when they scrimp on health care for inmates.  They cheapen up on health care and sanitation, and then get an outbreak of, say, multi-drug resistant staph aureus (the "flesh eating" bacteria) and (a) have to pay for serious emergency health-care, (b) have to sterilize the jail, (c) have to house their captives while cleaning up, and so on and so forth.

    Or they hire the lowest bidding health-care contractor, and get exactly what they pay for.  Then they get hit with legitimate suits over non-existent, wrongheaded, or malicious health care.

    Or they overcrowd the jails, and then something like TB spreads throughout the institution.  And the inmates take it along when they leave....

    And so on.


    My short jail stay damn (none / 0) (#12)
    by Blowback on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 09:28:12 PM EST
    came within a pubic hair of finishing me off! See below.

    I was jailed (none / 0) (#3)
    by Blowback on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 02:10:10 PM EST
    in Washington, DC for an overnight once on BS accusations. Case dismissed the next AM and I walked out, no charges. 3 days later, I was in hospital with bacterial meningitis, 3-4 hours from dead. Gone for one month, in intensive care. Woke up one month later after sepsis, heart attack and dry gangrene. Feet & hands black. Brain almost fried. My feet were amputated. Released from hospital 51 weeks (yes, one year) from day admitted. Caught bacterial meningitis in DC jail.

    DON'T ever get yourself in jail for anything or you may die or be permanently devastated.

    Heck, don't ignore symptoms. (none / 0) (#5)
    by Fabian on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 02:56:04 PM EST
    Bacterial meningitis is a fast killer.  The symptoms aren't all that unusual except in their severity.  The most common bacterial culprit itself isn't uncommon and in fact, they now have vaccines for it.  They suggest it for children now.  They also recommend it for college students.  

    I'd be more worried about picking up an STD.  The Red Cross won't take your blood if you've been locked up for 24 hours or longer.  (Past 12 months?  Longer?  Can't remember.)  Doesn't matter where or what for.  Apparently it puts you in the high risk group for HIV and other STDs.


    Released from jail on Friday. Flu-like (none / 0) (#6)
    by Blowback on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 03:35:07 PM EST
    symptoms & stiff neck on Monday, did not think serious to see Dr.   Wednesday, 4 AM on floor with sh** all over me, can't stand or walk. Ambulance to hospital Wed 4AM.

    Never ignore the stiff neck. (none / 0) (#7)
    by Fabian on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 05:30:33 PM EST
    Hallmark symptom of meningitis.  Also an aversion to light - if you have a headache, stiff neck and can't stand anything but dim or diffuse light, go to the ER because you probably belong in a hospital.

    And, BTW, your story is a lot like many other stories.  The only difference is that yours started in jail and you didn't die.  (I'm sure you know you just this side of dead at least once.)

    New England Journal of Medicine study finds 25% mortality rate in bacterial meningitis.  40% of the infections studied were contracted in a hospital.  Jail bad?  Hospital good?


    All bad... (none / 0) (#8)
    by kdog on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 05:49:47 PM EST
    I'd be mighty angry if I contracted it as a prisoner on a bs charge.

    Someone who tragically contracts it in a hospital at least was there out of necessity or of their own free will.

    My sympathies for your troubles blowback...best of luck to you man.


    I am only alive today because I was right (none / 0) (#11)
    by Blowback on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 08:52:40 PM EST
    at the brink of the other side and I decided to stick around. I ws dead if I wanted. But I am really sick of the feet gone. I was a star athelete, New York State  track medal winner, Rockies skier, triple diamond, for 20 years.

    Bottom line, maybe I should have checked out, but you beware, don't let any cops put you in the slammer if you can avoid it! And in the good ol USA, that still seems to be one of their perverted preoccupations.


    Been to that brink... (none / 0) (#13)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Fri Jul 18, 2008 at 10:26:38 AM EST
    ...a couple of times myself.  

    What an awful, terrible thing to have happen.  My best to you, Blowback.  Adapt, overcome and never stop fighting.


    You had this (none / 0) (#14)
    by Blowback on Fri Jul 18, 2008 at 10:44:35 AM EST
    disease more than once? How are you? Are you in Denver? Like talk to you.

    No... (none / 0) (#16)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Fri Jul 18, 2008 at 10:59:01 AM EST
    ...my "near death" experiences weren't related to what you had.  

    Not yet anyway--the more time I spend in hospitals, the better the chances are of picking up an infection like that.  


    the jail (none / 0) (#15)
    by diogenes on Fri Jul 18, 2008 at 10:56:13 AM EST
    I work in a jail myself.  Newly arrested inmates come in with no health care and with various illnesses.  There is no access to history.  A certain number of failures will occur.  If Cook County is worse than most, they should fix it.
    I also have treated corrections officers who were injured on the job.  As long as prisoners who beat other prisoners don't get special severe added charges, it's hard to risk injury to break up fights.
    How exactly do CO's maintain discipline and protect other prisoners without any consequences for antisocial inmates?
    If Cook County CO's regularly beat prisoners who insulted them, don't you think word would get around and prisoners would stop insulting CO's?

    As an American, I do not see how words, (none / 0) (#17)
    by Blowback on Fri Jul 18, 2008 at 11:34:37 AM EST
    no matter how offensive they may be, warrant physical force resulting in injury or death. It is their job to act professionally, that is what the guards are paid to do. Probably many of the prisoners committed "crimes" much less than physical violence.

    lack of protection (none / 0) (#18)
    by diogenes on Sat Jul 19, 2008 at 11:23:03 PM EST
    One of the charges was that CO's did not protect inmates from being beaten by other inmates.  
    Anywhere else in the world (work, school, etc) there are actual consequences, often severe, for verbally abusive behavior.  That is part of what maintains a civil society in work and school settings.  If you are proposing that verbal abuse of a CO be a harassment charge at a misdemeanor level or higher to be added on top of other charges, then maybe you have a point.