Response from the Sheriff’s Office to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (“CRIPA”) Inspection of Cook County Jail and Cermak Health Services
Friday, July 18, 2008 — The Sheriff’s Office appreciates efforts of the CRIPA team and welcomes the independent evaluation and scrutiny provided by the attorneys and corrections industry experts who visited the jail during a 10-day period in the Summer of 2007. Too often, the administrators and staff of large correctional facilities and other government institutions become insular and find themselves wedded to policies, procedures and attitudes that over the years, have become antiquated and counterproductive. That is why the Sheriff’s Office (as acknowledged on Page 2 of the report,) provided the CRIPA team with complete and unfettered access to Cook County Jail, its employees, inmates, and records. We will use the findings of the CRIPA report as a roadmap to address operational deficiencies and improve conditions at Cook County Jail for inmates and staff alike.
However, while the CRIPA report does point to operational shortcomings in a number of areas, it fails to mention corrective action that has already been taken. And the report often relies on inflammatory language and draws conclusions based on anecdotes and hearsay from inmates. The CRIPA report’s allegations of systemic violations of civil rights at the jail are categorically rejected by the Sheriff’s Office.
Additionally, we regret that the CRIPA report does not place many of its findings in the proper context. For instance, although the report is sharply critical of the Jail and Cermak Hospital’s efforts to prevent inmate suicides, it makes no mention of the fact that the inmate suicide rate in Cook County is a fraction of the national suicide rate for local jails. A report issued by the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2005 found the national suicide rate for local jails was 47 suicides per 100,000 inmates. Since 2001, Cook County Jail has averaged 1.9 suicides per 100,000 inmates. In other words, the national suicide rate is 24 times greater than the suicide rate at CCJ. Based on Justice Department data, Cook County should be praised for suicide prevention efforts, not criticized.
And while the CRIPA report does credit the Sheriff’s Office for “progress toward improved conditions” at Cook County Jail, it gives short shrift to (or completely ignores) a number of changes and reforms instituted both before and after the CRIPA team’s visit to the jail. Among those reforms are:
1) For the first time in ten years, the jail population has consistently stayed under capacity for most of 2008. In fact, the number of inmates held at the jail has decreased from an average daily population of 11,082 inmates in 2002, to a daily population of 9,255 this year. This progress in addressing overcrowding is not acknowledged in the CRIPA report.
2) Under the direction of Sheriff Dart, a “Weapons Free Committee” was formed to collect, inventory, and analyze all inmate-made shanks and weapons with the goal of reducing inmate and staff injuries. As a result of this endeavor, coordinated efforts have been launched with the county’s Facilities Management Department to remove and replace plumbing, electrical, and venting fixtures that have traditionally been stripped by inmates and fashioned into weapons. Additionally, a number of new security measures have been instituted as a result of the committee’s findings. As a result of these and other similar initiatives, the number of shanks recovered at the jail has been cut nearly in half during the first half of 2008, (482 in the first half of ’07, compared to 247 through June of this year.)
3) In 2007, after becoming dissatisfied with the pace and quality of internal affairs investigations within the office, Sheriff Dart formed a “blue ribbon” committee of former U.S. Attorneys and other legal and law enforcement experts to evaluate the Sheriff’s internal affairs operations. As a result, the Sheriff’s Office of Professional Review was formed as an independent investigative body within the Sheriff’s Office. The former Assistant Special Agent In-Charge of the Chicago FBI Office, Joseph Ways, was appointed to head OPR. He has already implemented many of the reforms recommended in the “Remedial Measures” section of the CRIPA report. Additionally, the former supervisor of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit and two former top officials from the U.S. Justice Department’s Inspector General’s Office have been added to the OPR staff. The CRIPA report made no mention of the formation of OPR, nor does the report mention that use of force incidents are down 22 percent at the jail during the first half of 2008.
4) Though the medical and psychiatric care of inmates is primarily the responsibility of Cermak Hospital, the Sheriff’s Office has unilaterally undertaken a number of initiatives to address medical and psychiatric-related challenges at the Jail. Sheriff Dart created a cabinet-level position of “Medical Liaison” on his staff to improve communication between the CCJ administration and Cermak Hospital. The Medical Liaison is also charged with acting as an advocate for inmates who report insufficient medical care in the inmate grievance process. Dart also created a “Inmate Re-entry Committee” to establish linkages between the Jail and community-based mental health providers to ease the transition to civilian life for former inmates with
psychiatric problems. Dart also hired Dr. Carl Alaimo, a nationally recognized expert in jail and prison psychiatric treatment and a former physician at Cermak, to train correctional officers on how to better recognize and supervise inmates with mental health issues. Unfortunately, none of these initiatives were mentioned in the CRIPA report.
5) Shortly after taking office in December of 2006, Sheriff Dart began personally conducting weekly “accountability meetings,” during which all high ranking Jail staffers are required to give detailed reports on activities in their respective divisions of the Jail. Inmate fights, use-of-force incidents, recovery of weapons, employee absenteeism, and other unusual occurrences are all discussed in a critical manner during the meetings and detailed spreadsheets tracking all incidents are produced and analyzed. Particular attention is paid during the accountability meetings to reviewing inmate fights and use-of-force incidents with the intent of identifying gang activity that could create future inmate conflicts. Representatives of the Sheriff’s Office of Professional Review are present at the meetings to make sure internal affairs investigations are being conducted into all questionable use-of-force incidents. The CRIPA team members attended a Jail accountability meeting during their visit to the facility, but offered no analysis or comment in their report on the effectiveness of the meetings or the impact of the meetings on Jail management culture. Instead, the CRIPA report cherry-picked statistics from an accountability meeting spreadsheet (see Page 3, Paragraph 2,) detailing one week in which an unusually high number of fights had occurred and cited this individual “snap-shot” of data as an example of “unchecked” violence at the Jail
6) In 2007, the Sheriff’s Office created a new department called the Criminal Intelligence Unit (CIU.) Staffed by experienced Sheriff’s Police detectives and correctional officers specially trained in developing gang intelligence, the CIU’s main function is to identify and prevent gang conflicts within the CCJ, the leading source of inmate-on-inmate violence frequently cited in the CRIPA report. Information developed by the CIU regularly results in the transfer of inmates from one living unit to another in an effort to stop gang conflict within individual jail living units. In extreme cases, inmates have been temporarily moved to outside correctional facilities in an effort to break gang hierarchy within CCJ. Members of the CIU have been invited to lecture at prison and jail conferences throughout the nation to offer other correctional facilities advice on dealing with street gang influence behind bars. The work of the CIU was also recently profiled on a national cable television program. Unfortunately, the CRIPA report made no mention of the CIU and its nationally recognized efforts to prevent gang violence in Cook County Jail.
7) In June of 2008, the Sheriff’s Office entered into an agreement to purchase an “early warning” computer system operated by OPR and designed to identify and track officers who most frequently use force or are most frequently targets of inmate complaints of mistreatment.
8) Under the direction of Sheriff Dart, the Sheriff’s Office has instituted more stringent hiring standards that require all applicants for jobs as correctional officers to undergo psychological testing and a polygraph examination. The new requirements are designed to weed-out candidates for correctional officer positions who may be prone to violence or other forms of misconduct.
9) In early 2008, CCJ began implementation of a new jail management computer system that will allow CCJ officials to formulate and adopt a new inmate classification system, as recommended by the CRIPA report. The new system is expected to be fully operational in 2009.
10) The Sheriff’s Office continues to work with Cook County’s Capital Planning Department to fully install a video surveillance system throughout the CCJ. As pointed out in the CRIPA report, such a system would help deter incidents of excessive force and provide an invaluable investigative tool for the Sheriff’s OPR. Requests for funding of a video system have been made to the county administration since 2004. The request was finally approved for the 2008 budget. A more than 1000-camera system is expected to be installed complex-wide during 2009 and 2010.
It is also important to note that the portion of the report that reviews medical services unfairly and repeatedly blurs the important distinction of duties between “Cook County Jail” and “Cermak Hospital.” Though the CRIPA report briefly acknowledges that the Sheriff’s Office has no control over Cermak employees and policies on Page 4, the report often refers to alleged shortcomings in medical services as failures of “Cook County Jail” staff and policies, when the criticism should be directed at “Cermak Hospital.” No doubt, many readers of the CRIPA report will be left with the erroneous impression that the Sheriff’s Office is responsible for the alleged failures in medical and psychiatric services provided to inmates.
In closing, though the Sheriff’s Office reserves the right to disagree with many of the conclusions of the CRIPA team, we welcome much of the constructive criticism and recommendations offered by the CRIPA report and we are fully committed to addressing all concerns therein in an effort to avoid litigation.
As such, the Sheriff will establish a division of Inspections and Audits within the Sheriff’s Office of Professional Review. One of this new department’s chief duties will be to review the CRIPA recommendations and ensure the listed policy and procedural changes within the Sheriff’s control are instituted. Additionally, the Inspections and Audit team will continue to review department operations in the future and report on operational shortcomings, noncompliance with general orders, and any policy violations that could result in civil rights claims by CCJ inmates.
We look forward to continuing our cooperative relationship with the CRIPA attorneys and experts with the goal of improving conditions at CCJ.