Slow your roll: As county prepares to release more jail inmates, Lightfoot expresses concern

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot asked a top Cook County judge to be careful about releasing large numbers of jail inmates amid concerns of COVID-19 being spread at the facility. Lightfoot’s letter to Presiding Judge Leroy Martin is dated Monday, the same day Martin issued an order that laid out procedures for reviewing inmate release requests.

About 100 jail inmates deemed “low-risk” by authorities were released last week in a move that county officials said was designed to ensure the individuals would not contract COVID-19 while in custody. Over the weekend, county prosecutors reviewed the cases of another 1,200 inmates who are under consideration for release. About 2400 of those were green-lighted for release consideration, according to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.

The Cook County Sheriff has confirmed that one jail guard and two inmates have tested positive for coronavirus since Sunday evening.

Martin’s order on Monday opened the door for release to a wide range of inmates, including most who are accused of non-violent crimes and individuals who are serving sentences in the facility.

Lightfoot expressed specific concerns with Martin’s willingness to consider the release of detainees who are eligible for electronic monitoring but remain jailed because they have no place to stay.

“What provisions will be made for them so they will not become homeless upon release?” Lightfoot asked. “As you surely know, our homeless population are among our most vulnerable and many of us have taken a number of steps to shore up this population.”

Lightfoot urged Martin to ensure that detainees are screened for COVID-19 infection and symptoms before they are released.

“Public health considerations post-release are also relevant in this time of crisis,” Lightfoot concluded. “We would be happy to partner with you to create protocols and appropriate screening pre-release to safeguard the health of all.”

Lightfoot’s letter is also signed by the presidents of five suburban mayoral organizations.

The mayor opened her letter by stating that no one should ever be jailed if they are not a flight risk and aren’t a danger to the community.

That raises an obvious question: Cook County’s chief judge and other political leaders have long said the court’s “affordable bail” program already keeps low-risk criminal defendants who are not threats to the community out of jail. So, how can it be that 1,000 or more of the jail’s 6,000 detainees may suddenly be considered low-risk individuals who are safe to release?

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com