Inmate population at the McHenry County Jail has remained relatively flat

The inmate population at the McHenry County Jail has remained relatively flat in recent years compared to a number of collar county correctional facilities nearing capacity.

Since doubling the capacity of the Woodstock-based jail more than six years ago, average daily inmate numbers have hovered around 500, well below the 650-hold max.

The mix of daily prisoners includes county inmates, as well as contract detainees from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, U.S. Marshals Service and Federal Bureau of Prisons agency.


A protest regarding criminal justice system and the conditions at the Cook County Jail

On Saturday at approximately 5:30 p.m., there was a protest of the Cook County Jail at the facility which is located between 26th Street and 31st Street along California Avenue on the Southwest Side of Chicago. The protest which lasted about an hour was out of the protesters’ concerns regarding the criminal justice system at the jail and the conditions at the jail according to a spokesman for the protest who was with the group. A group member also said that similar protests were taking place elsewhere in the country at a variety of jail facilities.

The approximately two dozen protesters were chanting and marching as they beat with sticks on home-made drums, mostly of which appeared to be huge empty plastic buckets turned upside down to make the attention-getting noise. The marching protesters stopped periodically at different entrance gates to condense as a united front, chanting and beating the drums more vigorously but apparently to no avail as no one from the jail facility came out to meet with them.

A Cook County Sheriffs policeman was present on foot with several others in Cook County Sheriff’s vehicles parked along the protesters route. Chicago Police were more present as there were several following the protesters closely behind on bicycles with numerous Chicago Police vehicles keeping pace with the protesters’ activities.

While members of the protesting group – some of whom said they were Occupiers, which indicates that Occupy Chicago still has a somewhat-active faction and the Chicago Police who were present were willing to talk to reporters. Cook County Sheriffs police, however, simply shooed persons on when they tried to approach a Cook County officer for information.


Thomas M. Osorio, 24, reported to be the reported suspect on the Lake Bluff car heist in Cook County

Following up on the reported car heist in Lake Bluff earlier this month: Chicago Police have a suspect in custody in relation to the 2003 GMC Yukon that went missing from its driveway in the 500 block of Mawman Avenue in Lake Bluff earlier in May. The suspect is Thomas M. Osorio, 24, from Waukegan. Lake Bluff Deputy Chief David Belmonte said Osorio is being held in Cook County Jail for felony possession of a stolen motor vehicle and is awaiting a bond hearing.

Deputy Chief Belmonte added that Lake Bluff Police will serve the suspect with felony auto theft charges after he is released from Cook County Jail.


A Cook County Jail inmate faces new charges in connection with his previous charges of attempted murder

A Cook County Jail inmate faces new charges in connection with a 2012 murder and a separate 2011 shooting in south suburban Robbins, the Cook County Sheriffs office announced Saturday.

Antwaan Bryant, 33, was booked into the jail in December 2012 on unrelated charges of attempted murder, unlawful use of a weapon by a felon and violating bond, according to the sheriffs office.

An investigation by sheriffs police and Robbins police has since uncovered that Bryant was allegedly one of two gunmen who shot and killed a man in the 13400 block of Clifton Park Avenue on June 29, 2012, a sheriffs office release said.

Bryant allegedly pointed a gun into the passenger side window of a car about 4:15 a.m. and demanded money, the release said. He and an unknown second suspect fatally shot the cars occupant after the victim tried to grab the gun and fight back.

Antwon D. Childs, 21, of Harvey, was pronounced dead at Ingalls Memorial Hospital roughly half an hour later, according to the Cook County Medical Examiners office.

In that incident, Bryant allegedly approached a person with a gun about 3:10 a.m., and shot the victim in the back when he tried to run away, the release said. The victim had tried but failed to wrestle the gun away before he ran.

Bryant, of Robbins, was ordered held on $ 2 million bond for the murder charge, and $ 500,000 for the aggravated battery with a firearm charge, the release said.

He will next appear in court May 21 at the Markham courthouse.


Nonbinding “recommendations” for electronic monitoring in the Cook County Jail

Something extremely odd happened in the Cook County criminal court system in November: Suddenly, and without notice or explanation, judges all but stopped ordering pretrial detainees to be released on electronic home monitoring.

Records show that from July 1 through Nov. 13, judges were issuing an average of 25 electronic monitoring orders per day. On Nov. 14 they issued zero. And from that day until the end of March, they issued a total of 33 such orders.

Instead they began issuing nonbinding “recommendations” for electronic monitoring.

The result has been a 33 percent decrease in the number of detainees released on the monitoring program and an increase in the prisoner population at the ever-crowded Cook County Jail.

Why the change?

This was the subject of a heated debate between Chief Judge Timothy Evans and Sheriff Tom Dart this month on WTTW-Ch. 11′s “Chicago Tonight” program.

Evans said he was frustrated with Dart’s ongoing refusal to obey electronic home monitoring orders issued by judges. He said fewer than 50 percent of detainees ordered into home monitoring actually get released with the ankle bracelet.

Dart said it’s closer to 90 percent. And of the remainder, Dart said it’s not a refusal to obey on his part but an inability to execute the orders when prisoners can’t find homes that will take them in, and choose to stay in jail, pay a cash bond or are found to be wanted on other charges, for example.

Dart said the change in mid-November put him in a box. “I need a court order, not a recommendation,” he said. “I’m not the authority to” decide which prisoners to release and under what circumstances. “A judge is.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who sat between the main antagonists during the televised wrangle, joined Evans in faulting Dart for not exercising this power, thus ballooning the jail population with low-income people awaiting trial on charges they committed nonviolent crimes.

That’s expensive $ 143 a day per inmate and arguably unnecessary.


St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael Cook is under federal investigation

St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael Cook is under federal investigation and is no longer presiding over a docket of approximately 200 criminal felony cases.

Following warrants executed Wednesday evening at his Belleville home, court chambers and a hunting cabin in Pike County, Cook is being held at the Washington County Jail, according to a source familiar with the jail.

Washington County deputy officer Ron Williams said the jail is not authorized to give information about federal inmates. He said his office was advised to refer any such questions to the U.S. Marshals Service.

The hunting cabin, located in Pleasant Hill, is the site of death of Joseph Christ, a former St. Clair County associate judge who died in March just 13 days after being sworn in.

Several sources have indicated that more arrests related to the Cook investigation would be coming on Friday.

On Thursday morning, States Attorney Brendan Kelly filed close to 500 motions for the substitution of judge in pending criminal cases before Cook and stated in those motions that he has assisted in and advanced a federal investigation of Cook.

Chief Judge John Baricevic said those motions are now moot because he had reassigned all of the cases Cook presided over pursuant to the federal investigation.

A Supreme Court rule prevents the disciplinary commission from confirming or denying whether it is investigating an attorney until a formal complaint has been filed.

The head of security for the St. Clair County Courthouse, Scott Battoe, said that federal authorities entered Cooks chambers late Wednesday night.

Christ, 49, died in March, just weeks after he had been appointed an associate judge in St. Clair County. He had been assigned to hear domestic violence cases. Prior to joining the judiciary, Christ served as a prosecutor for nearly 18 years and worked on cases involving violent crime and homicides.

Baricevic told the Record in March that Christ died of natural, but unknown causes. U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin in a March 18 Congressional tribute to Christ also noted that the judge died from naturalthough certainly unexpectedcauses.

Cook became an associate judge in 2007 and was appointed a circuit judge in 2010, filling the vacancy created by Annette Eckherts retirement.


Cook County jail’s lice and scabies outbreak

A group of inmates in the Cook County Jail have been isolated due to an outbreak of lice and scabies.

Officials say the parasites were found on 15 inmates. 10 in Division II of the jail and 5 in the mental health unit of Cermak Hospital, have been found to have the parasites, according to a news release from the Cook County Sheriffs office.

Several of them refused to be treated, and had to be restrained for medical attention.

The affected inmates will remain in isolation until the pests are gone.


Expanded its Expanded policies and services for transgender inmates at the Cook County Jail

Cook County Jail has quietly expanded its transgender policies and services in recent months, opening a protective unit for transgender women and bringing in local advocates to work with detainees and staff

The women file in all at once, in a fit of laughter and hugs, turning a quiet, empty room into a reunion.

Bonnie Wade and Channyn Lynne Parker from Chicago House are here today, and some of the women know them from the outside.

Nastasha Valentino, 38, rushes to hug Parker. Parker and Valentino have been friends for more than 20 years, and Valentino is proud to see Parker doing good work, the kind of work she was destined to do, Valentino says.

Today, Parker’s work involves meeting with transgender women detained at Cook County Jail. She is the first out transgender person to work in the Cook County Department of Corrections, a role she fills as part of her job as the Connect to Care program coordinator for Chicago House.

It has been just three weeks since the protective custody tier for transgender inmates opened in Division 6, and the room is full of cautious optimism about the new programs that come along with it.

She started doing sex work in 1973, at age 14. It’s been 16 years since she stopped. Today, as a peer specialist for the Cook County Sheriff‘s Office’s Human Trafficking Team, she tries to steer others away from sex work. She wears street clothes jeans, a white-and-pink top and gym shoes.

The meeting room looks much like a middle-school classroommilk-colored tiles and chalk-yellow walls bathed in fluorescent lighting. A couple of posters hang from the cinder-block walls, most of them with inspirational sayings. A black-and-white sign shouts, “NO PROFANITY PLEASE!!” Another lists off the rules for a barbershop, suggesting the room has multiple uses. An anatomy poster hangs in the corner. Otherwise the walls are bare.

Twelve white plastic chairs are assembled in front of an old metal desk. The detainees sit in the chairs. They appear to range from the late teens to middle age. Almost all of them are people of color.

Most of the women wear the same type of blue slip-on shoes, but a couple sport tattered flip-flops. Some of their socks are mismatched or spotted with holes. A few have come carrying personal itemsa comb with most of the teeth missing, a container of what looks like lip balm.

She tells the group about the time she “dated herself.” What she means is that she devoted her energy to her own needs and happiness.

Myers-Powell talks a lot about self-respect and self-preservation. She’ll be 100 percent, regardless of a manregardless of her husband, even.

Trans policy at Cook County Jail

Before March 2011, Cook County Jail had no official rule for placing transgender detainees together. That year, it became one of the first jails in the country to implement such a measure.

The seven-page order had come at the urging of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart after he discovered a lack of uniformity in policy. A jail employee had asked him what to do about placing transgender detainees, and he responded that jail staff should follow the existing policy.

“I just saw blank stares across the room,” he told Windy City Times in 2011. “I said, ‘Are you trying to tell me there is no policy?’”

The only policy dealing with transgender detainees dated back to 1984. The “Transsexual Treatment Protocol” detailed guidelines for prescribing hormone therapy, but it did not address gendered housing, clothing or staff training..

As instructed in the new 2011 document, corrections officers were to use preferred names and pronouns for transgender detainees. A committee would meet to determine the needs of each transgender person in detention. Perhaps most significantly, gender identity was to be a major determinant of housing.

The policy made national headlines, and some hailed it as a victory for transgender rights. Others lamented that it had been adopted without consulting local transgender leaders. But for the most part, local advocates waited and watched to see how the policy would play out and if it would be followed.

Reports on its success have since varied. While the policy aims to keep trans detainees safer from their peers in detention, the majority of anecdotal complaints seem to be about corrections officers, not inmates.

In 2012, Monica Scott, a transgender woman, was detained in Cook County Jail on a forgery charge.

Scott, 40, spent four days in a men’s lockup with the general population before a staffer approached her about moving to Division 17, where she would be housed with women, she said.

“They made it sound really, really sweet,” said Scott.

Scott, who entered the jail with a drug problem, would have access to programs and resources that would both affirm her identity and help break her addiction, she was told. She would be housed with women instead of men. Still, she didn’t want to go to Division 17.

Scott had already been locked up with the men. Moving to a women’s facility was bound to cause a stir, not just with other detainees but with corrections staff.

In the end, Scott said, she was right.

“When I got there with the women, it was crazy,” she said. “I was assaulted by one of the officers.”

Scott had been promised confidentiality, she said. But in Division 17, corrections officers knew she was transgender, and they taunted her because of it. Other detainees had also been told about her gender identity, making Scott a target for harassment.

In the showers, other detainees would corner her to study her body, she said.

She also alleges that she was beaten in front of other women by a corrections officer.

And the harassment followed her once she was released, she said, as the same officer tracked her down on the outside.

Keisha Allen, another transgender woman who entered the jail in November 2012, reported similar harassment when she was jailed in a men’s lockup, Division 9.

“To me, my experience was horrible,” said Allen. “I didn’t really have no problems with men. I mostly had issues with the security guards. I felt like, for me, it was torture, waking up like, ‘What is this officer going to say about me tomorrow?’”

Allen alleges that despite having a gender marker of “female” on her ID, she was housed with men.

Allen’s story and Scott’s resemble many coming out of not just Cook County Jail in past years but also jails and prisons throughout the country, where detainees are often confronted by anti-LGBT bias daily.

One Cook County Jail employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said that anti-trans verbal abuse at the jail has been part of the culture there. He has seen it regularly, he said.

According to the sheriff’s office, the Cook County Department of Corrections has a zero-tolerance policy for verbal and physical abuse against inmates.

“We do have training procedures for staff regarding gender identity and discrimination,” said the sheriff’s office in a statement. “The Sheriff’s Office of Professional Review objectively investigates all allegations against its employees. A new policy is being written to coordinate services with CCSO (The Cook County Sheriff’s Office) and Cermak Health Services, at the jail to provide appropriate accommodations for all subjects in its custody who identify as transgender or who are identified by Cermak as transgender. CCSO and Cermak strive to uphold the respect and dignity of all subjects in CCSO custody.”

The protective-custody tier that houses transgender detainees and the addition of staff training are intended to address some of those issues.

Cook County Jail is one of a few in the country to draft a transgender policy that allows for self-identification. It is rarer still that jails offer several, if any, trans-specific accommodations. In many cases, Cook County is operating without other examples of how to house transgender inmates. Much of the strategy on that work has developed within the Gender Identity Committee with the backing of Sheriff Dart.

While the Division 6 tier is new, many trans women were previously housed in Division 11, where they had access to similar programs for trans women. Still, not all trans women are being held in Division 6; some remain in other parts of the jail for various reasons, including the charges they face.

Officer Erica Rosas

Among those who began work with the Gender Identity Committee early on was Officer Erica Rosas, a representative from Assistant Executive Director Martha J. Salazar’s office.

Rosas had not worked with transgender people previously, but she fell into the role quickly and took over as chair of the committee about a year ago.

As chair of the committee, Rosas spent a lot of her off days visiting trans detainees at the jail. It took a long time to build rapport with the women. But in time, she feels she has started to gain trust.

Rosas appears quiet and serious but warm. Her attire is business-casual rather than the uniform that many jail employees sport. A large badge around her neck identifies her as an officer.

In Ms. Brenda’s group, Rosas observes silently in the background as Parker and “Ms. Brenda” Myers-Powell talk self-esteem. She pipes up toward the end to encourage the women to seize the moment and turn things around for themselves.

More than anyone, Rosas is charged with seeing to it that trans detainees are safe and are able to express their gender. She meets with each known trans detainee individually when they enter the jail and reports back to the committee. She also does wellness checks on the women.

Challenges range from securing appropriate clothing, underwear and toiletries to making sure that medical care is in order. And then there is the issue of staffing.

“I’ve become very overprotective,” says Rosas, who acknowledges that there have been issues with corrections staff when it comes to transgender detainees.

Under Rosas, the role of the Gender Identity Committee has expanded significantly.

In March, the jail updated its transgender policy, adding more detailed guidelines for corrections staff and more oversight by the committee on the policy’s implementation.

Under the current policy, detainees are asked if they self-identify as transgender once they enter the jail’s booking area.

Those who self-identify are offered protective custody and are interviewed by Rosas or someone else from the committee. It is also possible for detainees to be classified as transgender by jail staff and placed into protective custody without self-identifying, the sheriff’s office confirms.

After meeting with Rosas or another committee member, a detainee is assigned an accommodation plan. The plan includes information about the detainee’s needsfrom toiletries and underwear to hormones and other medications.

Many of the trans women who enter the jail receive a care package of feminine toiletries, bras and panties, among other things. The packages are donated either by Myers-Powell or the sheriff’s Women’s Justice Program. Part of the reason for this, Rosas notes, is that many of the trans detainees who enter the jail don’t have money to purchase such things in the commissary.

Special accommodations have also been made for showers in Division 6, according to Rosas. Transgender women are given their own allotted time to shower.

Conspicuously absent from the discussion is anything about transgender men or transgender people who do not identify as strictly male or female. The Division 6 tier, Rosas says, is for transgender women alone. The sheriff’s office states that the same services and accommodations are available to transgender men but does not go into specifics.

A change at the jail

Some of the trans women in custody report that a change in the overall culture at the jail has also changed what it means to be detained there. That’s in part because the jail has increasingly focused on rehabilitation over punishment, employees say.

Valentino has been locked up since September. It’s her first time being detained at the jail in a decade, she says.

“The Cook County Jail from when I was here 10 years ago was nowhere near close to the same,” Valentino says.

In her eyes, things have changed dramatically and for the better.

There are days now, she says, when Cook County Jail doesn’t exactly feel like jail.

You can come and go between activities without handcuffs. There are programs here, people to talk to, friends you know from the outside. On good days, the jail feels like a place with resources and opportunities, she says.

“You can get your hair cut,” she says. “You can get your hair done. You can get a job here.”

But there are other days when the reality of detention hits you, days when the place morphs. It’s the mood, Valentino says. You walk through the halls and you feel ittoday you are in jail. Yesterday, this was a different place.

Not everyone in the tier is thrilled to be there. In fact, many feel they have been unnecessarily segregated. A 26-year-old trans detainee who asks to be identified only as Monroe was among them.

“At first, I thought the transgender committee was segregating you,” Monroe said.

In Division 6, the women are picked out of the general population and placed in protective custody, a designation for detainees deemed vulnerable by corrections staff.

When the jail’s Gender Identity Committee meets to talk about the new tier, Dr. Kenya Key reports that several of the women are requesting psychiatric evaluations in an attempt to have their gender-identity status changed to get out of the tier.

Part of the challenge has been that the women have been plucked out of men’s lockups but have yet to see a benefit in the transgender tier, Rosas notes.

Chicago House services at the jail are just beginning. Without those services, some women feel they have been unnecessarily singled out, outing them to the rest of the jail and putting them at risk of ridicule and harassment. Others would rather be in close proximity to men, Valentino notes.

Rosas hopes that the partnership with Chicago House will make the tier more appealing to detainees. Monroe says she is open to the possibility.

Valentino prefers protective custody. Being with the general population feels dangerous, she said. She remains hopeful but skeptical.

“At the end of the night, you’re still in jail,” she says.


Peoria County jail inmate faces 13 years in prison

A Peoria County jail inmate was sentenced Thursday to 13 years in prison, according to jail officials, for an aggravated battery to police charge filed last year. However, 41 year old Tony Purnell still faces a more serious charge accusing him with threatening a public official this year. Court records indicate Purnell allegedly threatened Judge Kouri on January 21st. Purnell will be back in court on that charge June 5th.