Chicago Crusader staff report
Cook County’s jail population in the past several years dropped from 10,000 to 7,500 and the number could drop even lower, according to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
The number was among several achievements Preckwinkle touted during her annual luncheon at the Chicago Renaissance Hotel with newspapers publishers in Chicago and Cook County.
Publishers from the Chicago Crusader, Chicago Defender, Windy City Word, Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times were among many executives who heard Preckwinkle give a 45-minute speech. She outlined her goals and achievements as head of the state’s biggest county.
During her leadership, Preckwinkle said she was forced to make a lot of difficult choices. She also said the county made “strategic” investments in the areas of public health, public safety and economic development.
Preckwinkle highlighted the county’s approved plans to restore and redeveloped the old and shuttered Cook County Hospital at 1900 West Harrison. The Beaux-Arts style public hospital is where many Blacks were born and treated during the facility’s heyday. Now, the building and adjacent land will be redeveloped into a hotel, retail and residential complex. The biggest aspect of the project that Preckwinkle noted is that the $600 million development will be funded with private money.
During her speech, Preckwinkle also announced the county’s plan to expand Medicare through County Care, a managed care program. She said currently there are more than 160,000 people who have signed up for the program. Preckwinkle said the County Care program has already helped hospitals and health clinics reduce taxpayer allocation from $400 million in 2010 to $121 million this year.
Perhaps the county’s biggest achievement was reducing Cook County’s jail population by 25 percent. Preckwinkle said the county aims to reduce the inmate population further down to 6,000 in the coming years.
Preckwinkle said the decrease came after the county reduced or eliminated long wait times for inmates awaiting trial. She said only 7 percent of inmates who are in jail are actually serving a sentence. Preckwinkle said 93 percent of inmates are awaiting trial and 70 percent of them are accused of non-violent crimes.
She said inmates accused of misdemeanors or less violent offenses should be given ankle bracelets or probation instead of jail time. Preckwinkle also noted her success in communicating these alternatives through the county’s states attorney office.
Preckwinkle acknowledged the plight of Blacks who are locked up for committing crimes that whites often get away with.
“I’ve often said that our County Jail lies at the intersection of racism, poverty, and a close look at how and why these people–especially people of color–have traditionally been detained at the jail underscores the problem.”