On the afternoon of Friday, March 20, 2020, Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli filed an emergency petition calling for the mass release of people incarcerated in Cook County Jail to protect their health and the health of the public in the wake of COVID-19.

The petition lists several categories of people who should be released, which largely mirror the demands for release supported by CCBF and more than 70 community organizations, including:

  1. All persons who are at elevated risk of contracting COVID-19, either because of age and/or because of underlying health conditions;
  2. All pregnant women;
  3. All persons who are being confined on misdemeanor charges, felony charges as to which they are probationable or non-violent felony charges, including in particular all non-violent class 3 and class 4 felony charges;
  4. All persons who are being confined following a judicial determination that they are bailable, but who remain in Jail because they cannot pay the money bond set in their cases;
  5. All persons who are being confined following arrest on a warrant or upon an allegation of parole or probation violation and who are not charged with or suspected of a crime of violence;
  6. All persons serving sentences of imprisonment in the Jail;
  7. All persons who are eligible for release only if they satisfy the conditions of electronic monitoring but who remain in the Jail because they have “no place to stay.”

An amicus brief in support of the mass release petition was filed on behalf of Chicago Community Bond Fund, The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, Illinois Justice Project, and Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justicewith an additional 26 advocacy, community, and legal organizations joining in support.

The amicus puts into perspective the seriousness of COVID-19 and the magnitude of the risk it presents to people incarcerated in Cook County Jail and the broader Cook County community.


COVID-19: Cook County Jail In Crisis

It started small. On March 23, two inmates in the sprawling Cook County jail, one of the nation’s largest, were placed in isolation cells after testing positive for the coronavirus.

In a little over two weeks, the virus exploded behind bars, infecting more than 350 people.

The jail in Chicago is now the nation’s largest-known source of coronavirus infections, according to data compiled by The New York Times, with more confirmed cases than the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, a nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., or the cluster centered on New Rochelle, N.Y.

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the jail, said Wednesday that 238 inmates and 115 staff members had tested positive for the virus.

But those figures most likely downplay the actual problem, the jail acknowledged, because the vast majority of the jail’s 4,500 inmates have not been tested.


COVID-19: Cook County Jail

“There are now 234 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among persons detained in the County Jail, and growing daily,” said Locke Bowman, Executive Director of the MacArthur Justice Center.

“Cook County Jail has become a petri dish for COVID-19. We are all in this together—those who are free and those being detained. Allowing this outbreak to expand as it has, endangers lives of detainees and jail staff as well as family members, essential workers, first responders, and frontline medical caregivers and all of the rest of us.”



The rate of COVID-19 infection inside Cook County Jail is 27x higher than the city of Chicago and 47x that of the U.S. with 101 positive tests and 93 pending test results.

In other words…Governor Pritzker it’s time to take-in these numbers, invoke the power of clemency. The moment calls for thinking outside the box, thinking outside the prison cell.

Be bold. Act now.