Cook County, IL


Cook County, which contains the city of Chicago, operates one of the largest single-site jails in the United States. Cook County has made progress in reducing reliance on jail incarceration, with the population of the Cook County Jail declining 6.4% overall between April 2016 and April 2017. Notably, the proportion of low-risk, nonviolent defendants held in jail pretrial has also declined from 45% to 30% since the county began implementing pretrial reform efforts.

To build on past efforts, Cook County was awarded $1.85 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge in 2017 to implement strategies that address the main drivers of the local jail population in the area, including unfair and ineffective practices that take a particularly heavy toll on people of color, low-income communities, and people with mental health and substance abuse issues.

To continue reducing the jail population safely, the county plans to implement new strategies aimed at addressing system inefficiencies, providing non-jail options for lower-risk offenders, and rebuilding community trust in the justice system. These strategies will include the rollout of an Automated Court Reminder system to reduce failure to appear charges, a comprehensive bail review and reform strategy, implementing deflection and diversion options for law enforcement to help provide alternatives for non-violent offenders, and fostering extensive community engagement around ongoing criminal justice reform in Cook County.

  • Low-level and nonviolent offenders are overrepresented in Cook County jails, and law enforcement policy must be amended to allow officers options in deflecting offenders from arrest.
  • People of color continue to be disproportionately arrested and incarcerated at higher rates than their white counterparts in Cook County. Despite making up 45% of the county’s adult population, African Americans and Hispanics make up 85% of the jail population, on average.
  • Pretrial release and length of stay are main drivers of the jail population. The jail pretrial population alone was 90% in 2016. In 2016, 36,180 pretrial defendants were detained in jail, spending an average of 62 days in jail.
  • Overuse of detention causes disruption in the stability of arrestees’ families and communities; it leads to higher re-arrest rates and produces worse case outcomes with more subsequent incarceration.
  • Create and implement an Automated Court Reminder system to reduce arrests due to failure to appear in court.
  • Implement, via judicial order, new bail procedures to minimize detention on monetary bail.
  • Launch a multi-agency coordinated effort to seek community input on and participation in criminal justice reform.
  • Implement a police deflection and diversion strategy to provide law enforcement options to deflect non-violent offenders at the point of arrest.

Supported with $1.85 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge, Cook County will implement forward-looking, smart solutions to further reduce the local jail population by 17% over the next two years.

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