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.
At the same time, the judge said Dart had made a “significant, and impressive, effort to safeguard detained persons in his custody from infection by coronavirus.”
Dart has repeatedly defended his handling of the health crisis.
While citing unique challenges — like weighing if a detainee might use hygiene supplies as a weapon, as one allegedly did this month by using soap inside a sock in an attack— he has maintained that his office has “been in front of this pandemic every step of the way,” from screening new admissions for the virus to supplying staff and detainees with hand sanitizer to educating detainees about social distancing.