The Cook County Jail, located on 96 acres (39 hectares) in South Lawndale, Chicago, Illinois, is the largest single site jail in the United States. Operated by the government of Cook County and located at 2700 South California Avenue, it houses about 6500 prisoners and employs 3900 law enforcement officials and 7000 civilian employees.
It was one of three sites in which executions were carried out by electrocution in Illinois. Between 1928 and 1962, the electric chair was used 67 times at the jail, including the state's last electrocution, that of James Duke, on August 24, 1962. The state's other electrocutions were carried out at the Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill and at the Menard Correctional Center in Chester.
In the mid-to-late-1800s suspects in serious criminal matters were held at the site of the Cook County Criminal Court Building on Hubbard Street in a jail attached to the courthouse (the jail part was on the same block, at the back, and is sometimes identified by reference to the corner of Dearborn and Illinois Streets). A separate short-stay city jail called the "Bridewell" on Polk Street, officially the House of Correction, housed less serous offenders from within the city. The city Bridewell moved to the site of the present jail complex at 29th and California in 1871 (the time of the Great Chicago Fire) but the County's serious alleged offenders did not move there until the mid-twentieth century. When the two facilities began to be located together, they first gained the reputation as the 'largest concentration of inmates in the free world.' Later, the County and City jails were institutionally merged by the Illinois legislature, officially called the Cook County Department of Corrections, overseen by the Cook County Sheriff's Office.
At Metropolitan Correctional Center, Chicago (MCC Chicago) female prisoners needing to be isolated, as of 2005, have been taken to the Cook County Jail as the security housing unit (SHU) at the former is only for males.
U.S. Department of Justice report
In July 2008, the civil rights division of the United States Department of Justice released a report finding that the Eighth Amendment civil rights of the inmates has been systematically violated. The report found that the CCJ failed to adequately protect inmates from harm or risk of harm from other inmates or staff; failed to provide adequate suicide prevention; failed to provide adequate sanitary environmental conditions; failed to provide adequate fire safety precautions; and failed to provide adequate medical and mental health care.
Specific alleged violations that have resulted in Federal sanctions and/or class action lawsuits include:
- Systematic beatings by corrections officers
- Poor food quality
- Inmates' being forced to sleep on cell floors due to overcrowding and mismanagement (resulting in a $1,000 per inmate class-action settlement)
- Rodent infestation and injury caused to sleeping inmates by rat and mouse bites
- Violations of privacy during multiple invasive strip searches
- Failure to provide adequate medical care, including failure to dispense medications
- Invasive and painful mandatory tests for male STDs (resulting in a $200 per inmate class action settlement)
- Unnecessarily long waiting time for discharge upon payment of bond, completion of sentence, or charges' being dropped. Wait times are currently routinely in excess of 8 hours, nearly all of which is spent with many inmates packed into tiny cells.
In popular culture
The women's section of the former Cook County jail near Hubbard Street is the setting used for the musical Chicago, as well as its 2002 film adaptation. The present jail is used in segments of TV series including Chicago Fire and Better Call Saul.
The Cook County Prison is where Bigger Thomas is held, in Richard Wright's Native Son.
- "Cook County Sheriff's Office - Home Page". Cook County. Cook County. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
- "Cook County Jail's History". Cook County Sheriffs Office. Retrieved 2019-08-05.
- "Jails and Prisons". Encyclopedia of Chicago. Newberry Library and Chicago History Museum. 2005.
- Kerman, Piper. Orange is the New Black (Chapter 18: It Can Always Get Worse). 2010; ISBN 978-0-385-53026-2 (Location 4394).
- Davey, Monica. "Federal Report Finds Poor Conditions at Cook County Jail." The New York Times. July 18, 2008.
- "'A serious problem' U.S. attorney says Cook County Jail falls short of basic standards." Chicago Tribune. July 18, 2008.