New research has found that nearly one in six cases of COVID-19 in Chicago and Illinois can be connected to people moving through the Cook County Jail, which at one point was dubbed the largest-known source of coronavirus cases in the U.S.

According to a new study published Thursday in the journal Health Affairs, cycling through Cook County Jail is associated with 15.7% of all documented cases of the virus in Illinois and 15.9% in Chicago through mid-April.

“As the pandemic began, I realized this was going to be a huge driver,” Eric Reinhart, a University of Chicago researcher who co-authored the report, told WTTW.

“The jail cycle – arresting people, cycling through the jail and back into their communities – was going to be a huge driver of COVID-19 spreading to communities.”



Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announced that in-person family visits have resumed at the Cook County Jail for the first time in nearly three months due to the continuing trend of low COVID-19 cases at the Cook County Department of Corrections.

“We have worked hard to find alternative methods to allow families to stay in touch with detainees, but nothing can replace seeing loved ones face-to-face, and that only adds to the already significant stress experienced by the families of those incarcerated,” Sheriff Dart said, in a statement. “We believe this is not only beneficial for those in our custody, but also for our staff, since it reduces anxiety among detainees.”

Visitation hours will be held from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day including weekends, weather permitting, and DOC staff expect to facilitate approximately 100 visits daily.



Join us for a car caravan and socially distanced rally calling on the Cook County Board and President Toni Preckwinkle to defund the Cook County Jail and invest that money in Black communities.

Meet in front of Cook County Jail at 2700 S. California Ave. Thursday, June 18th from 9:30-11am.



Organizers of the Chicago action said they chose Cook County Jail because they felt the Japanese American community’s experience with mass incarceration during World War II holds lessons for how to handle the coronavirus outbreak in the jail.

“We saw what was happening, and it reminded us of how many people in the World War II incarceration camps died because of medical neglect. We want as many people as possible to be released to prevent more loss of life.”

The demonstration was part of a national social justice movement called Tsuru For Solidarity.


PRISONS: Indifference Won’t Stop The Pandemic

What happens inside will inevitably influence what happens outside. Any outbreak within our jails and prisons can cascade into the community.

Once COVID-19 spreads throughout a facility, the burden of caring for these sick people will necessarily shift to local community medical facilities. Large numbers of seriously ill incarcerated individuals will strain overtaxed hospitals, increasing everyone’s morbidity and mortality.

As of April 8, Chicago’s Cook County Jail was the top cluster for the virus that causes COVID-19.



In the federal prison system, which incarcerates more than 150,000 people, a little under 2% of inmates have been tested, and 70% of those tested have been found to be positive.

At the Cook County jail the infection rate is 7%. In the New York City jails it is 8%. At Parnall Correctional Facility in Michigan, 10% of inmates and 21% of staff have tested positive.

And at the Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio — the largest hotspot in the country — more than 2000 inmates have tested positive — about 80% of the prison’s inmates.

In many parts of America the coronavirus outbreak behind bars is far more widespread than previously believed.



“It has become apparent that plaintiffs’ counsel has been singularly focused on categorial release at all costs—arguably pursuing a political decarceration policy through misuse of the legal process in the middle of a pandemic,” attorneys for the sheriff’s office argued in a 28-page brief filed late Monday.

As of yesterday, according to the office, the virus had sickened 534 detainees and killed seven.



“The industry behind mass incarceration is bigger than many appreciate. So is the harm they cause and the power they wield. They exploit and abuse people with devastating consequences.”

A new report by New York-based advocacy group Worth Rises detailed some 4,100 corporations that profit from the country’s prisons and jails. It identified corporations that support prison labor directly or through their supply chains.

The group also recommended divesting from more than 180 publicly traded corporations and investment firms considered to cause the greatest harm to people behind bars and the communities that support them.

The report includes vendors that stock commissaries with Cup Noodles and Tide laundry detergent, along with contracted health care providers that have been sued for providing limited or inadequate coverage to those behind bars.

There are companies like Smith & Wesson that make protective gear for correctional officers and Attenti that supply electronic ankle bracelets. Other household names, such as Stanley Black & Decker, have entire units dedicated to manufacturing accessories for prison doors.

Incarcerated people also work, making everything from license plates to body armor vests and mattresses. In California, some even serve as firefighters. But in some places, they are employed by major corporations such as Minnesota-based 3M.

Billed as a cheap alternative to foreign outsourcing, inmates also previously provided goods to Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret and Whole Foods, sparking an uproar.



There’s no calendars, there’s no clocks, there’s literally nothing.

Everyone forgets what day it is. You ask the correctional officer what day it is or what time it is and they just give you an attitude.

Inside Division 16, Cook County Jail’s COVID-19 positive detainees say they’re waiting to die.

It’s difficult to count the days, but he knows she’s coming. His little girl. His first child. She’s due in the middle of May, but from Zachary Thomas’ position, he can’t tell if it’s March or April and the only way to measure the passing time is by the minutes to his next meal.

“The way I keep track of time in here is: they wake us up at four in the morning for breakfast, then we get lunch around 10:30 to 11, then we get dinner around 6:30 to 7.”

Inside Division 16, detainees sit roughly three feet apart from each other on their beds, which are secured to the ground. They play cards, chess, watch movies, share bathrooms and even share soap when necessary. They lean on each other’s beds, where they also eat meals, multiple men quarantined there told The Chicago Reporter in phone interviews.

The division is in a barracks that housed an old boot camp program at the jail and was recently set up  to provide relief for Cermak Health Services, which has a limited number of beds for infected detainees. As of Monday, there were 171 detainees housed at Division 16, according to the Cook County Sheriff’s office.

Over the phone, you can hear how close they are to each other. You can follow their conversations. You hear them breathe. And you can sense the reverberations of their coughs.



The Cook County Jail in Chicago is one of the largest in the country.

Sprawling across 96 acres on the Southwest Side, the facility houses more than 4,000 people, most awaiting trial. Its cramped living conditions made it a perfect petri dish for COVID-19.

Today, the jail is home to one of the largest known outbreaks in the country and has been a flashpoint in the national debate over how to contain the virus in correctional facilities. More than 9,400 cases have emerged in prisons across the U.S., according to an analysis by The Marshall Project. In the Cook County Jail, nearly 500 detainees and more than 300 correctional officers have tested positive.

Seven people have died: six inmates and one guard.

Sheriff Tom Dart is now under fire for his oversight of the jail in the era of coronavirus. In a federal lawsuit, civil rights attorneys have blamed him for failing to curtail what they have called a “rapidly escalating public health disaster,” and the judge in that case has ordered Dart to improve sanitation, to expand social distancing and to report back on his progress.