Declaring it a keystone achievement in their public safety reform efforts to reduce the jail population and right-size facilities, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announced today that several buildings on the Department of Corrections campus are being demolished.
Reducing the number of buildings on the campus recognizes the collective efforts of Cook County criminal justice stakeholders to reduce the jail’s population to its lowest level since 1991, as well as provide cost savings for the County and its taxpayers.
Sustained reduction in the jail population will allow the County to close and demolish Divisions 1, 3 and 17 of the jail. Those actions are expected to save more than $3 million in building operating costs during FY 2017 and avoid $188 million in capital costs over the next decade.
“This is a huge step toward a criminal justice system that is more efficient and responsive to individual circumstances and less costly to taxpayers,” President Preckwinkle said. “Bringing down the jail population is allowing us to bring down buildings and bring down costs. As we see declines in the number of detainees, it is logical and fiscally responsible to reduce the number of divisions at the jail.”
“Two Cook County Jail buildings have sat dormant for several years now, the result of a declining population and our innovative staffing model aimed at economizing resources and saving taxpayer dollars,” Sheriff Dart said. “These three buildings were built as far back as the 1920s and are in need of constant and costly repairs. We will continue to work toward ensuring efficient housing on the jail campus -- a significant step for those of us who believe in running the criminal justice system fairly, humanely and cost-effectively.”
Since taking office, President Preckwinkle has worked with Sheriff Dart and other criminal justice stakeholders on a number of systemic reforms aimed at reducing the number of non-violent detainees who were traditionally incarcerated on the DOC campus while awaiting trial, sometimes for weeks or months. For years, the daily jail population hovered at roughly 10,000.
With an increased focused on diversionary tactics for non-violent offenders, including the use of Electronic Monitoring, the jail’s population has been reduced by more than 20 percent.
This action is the result of an agreement between the President’s Office and the Sheriff's Office. Under Phase 1 of the project plan, Divisions 3 and 17 and their 135,000 square feet will be completely demolished in 2017.
The larger Division 1, with 344,000 square feet, will follow. The demolition will begin in 2018. Completion of the project will reduce the detainee capacity of the campus from 11,300 to about 9,600, a 15 percent decrease. Reducing the number of persons incarcerated at the jail allows the Sheriff’s office to concentrate detainees in the remaining divisions on the campus.
Reducing the County’s overall real estate footprint is also part of a broader, comprehensive real estate realignment project initiated by President Preckwinkle to increase efficiency and reduce costs. Preckwinkle established a goal of reducing the County’s overall real estate footprint by 1 million square feet by 2018.
“Thanks to the work of various community and institutional stakeholders we are moving to a smarter system of justice,” said Commissioner Jesus Garcia, in whose district the jail complex is located. “This move signals our commitment to reducing the population of non-violent offenders and finding alternative release programs for those eligible while at the same time saving taxpayers money.”
“When it comes to jails, bigger doesn’t always necessarily mean better,” said Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore, chairman of Board’s Law Enforcement Committee. “I am glad to see one of the largest jail systems in the country getting smaller in a responsible manner. Shrinking the jail campus can have a positive societal and financial impact in Cook County.”
Today’s announcement represents “real and important steps toward meaningful systemic changes,” President Preckwinkle said.
“We need to build on this success by implementing the proposed court reminder system, which has been shown to reduce failures to appear more effectively than the threat of detention,” she said. “We know that holding people in the jail destroys their lives. Even a short period of pretrial detention can result in loss of employment or a home. Every effort needs to continue to be made to keep people working, attending school and caring for their families as they await trial.”
“I am thankful for Sheriff Dart’s partnership on this significant undertaking. Together we are achieving important criminal justice reforms, lowering the jail population and realizing important cost reductions,” President Preckwinkle said.
“I look forward to continuing to partner with the President and County Board on strategies to keep the people of Cook County safe while making the most prudent use of our financial resources,” Sheriff Dart said.
The announcement is one in a number of expense reduction strategies the County will undertake in FY 2017.
The FY 2017 budget addresses long-term fiscal stability by reducing structural expenditures while preserving essential public health and public safety services. The County will be reducing its overall workforce, continuing to shrink its real estate footprint, consolidating warehouse space, and decreasing the operating tax allocation to the Cook County Health and Hospitals System.