A Look Inside a Broken System
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A Note on Unjust Incarceration
Our nation’s jails hold more than 731,000 people on any given day. More than 8,800 are right here in Cook County Jail – the largest single site jail in the United States.
With over five million people, Cook County is the America’s second most populous county. Everything we do – both correctly and incorrectly – serves as an example for the rest of the nation. Unfortunately, for far too long we have been demonstrating many of the things that are wrong with the criminal justice system.
For most, jails are out of sight, out of mind – places where dangerous people are locked up and kept away from society. While jails certainly house many horrifically violent offenders who belong behind bars, that is only part of the story. Jails – including Cook County Jail – have increasingly emerged as dumping grounds for the poor, desperate and mentally ill. Crimes such as breaking into an abandoned home to sleep, stealing candy bars to subdue hunger, buying drugs to self-medicate for mental illness – these are acts that reflect the need for help, not incarceration.
There has been recent national momentum to finally address mass (or unjust) incarceration. This is long overdue. Yet we cannot solve the problem before we fully understand the problem. And we cannot understand the problem until we fully comprehend who is in custody and why.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be adding public information here about the cases and faces we see every day in order to bring our broken system into focus. These are people who have a record of cycling through the jail, often on misdemeanor charges that add up to months behind bars and tens of thousands of dollars in bills to taxpayers. Know that for every person featured here, there are scores more just like them hidden behind the high walls of this jail – people that repeatedly slip through our society’s threadbare safety net into prison cells. We house hundreds of people committing such ‘crimes of survival’ every day and we should be thinking about what we can do to help them and break the outrageously expensive cycle instead of perpetuating it: arrest, charge, incarcerate – and repeat.
Imagine what it must be like to be stuck within the revolving door of a criminal justice system that is often broken and unflinching. And consider joining me in my fight for a more thoughtful approach to criminal justice.
With your help and advocacy, we can truly effect change and break the cycle.
Sheriff Thomas J. Dart