CHICAGO (CBS) — After nearly 20 percent of the staff at Cook County Jail failed to show up for the morning shift on Tuesday, the facility was placed on lockdown Tuesday morning.
According to the Cook County Sheriff’s office, 18 percent of the jail’s 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift did not make it in Tuesday morning, prompting a lockdown “to ensure officer safety.” The lockdown was lifted late Tueday afternoon.
Officials said public visitation would continue as scheduled during lockdown, and inmates would be able to attend court hearings, but the only other inmate movement would be “for medical and mental health check-ups.”
The sheriff’s office said 142 correctional officers either called in sick, or missed their shift due to family issues or the weather. Chicago got more than 3 inches of snow from Monday afternoon to Tuesday morning, and although snow had largely stopped falling by early Tuesday, gusting winds and blowing snow made a mess of many local roads during the morning commute.
“This would be a problem in the private sector,” said Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey. “It’s more so of a problem when these are people being paid for by the taxpayers and even more so when they’re in the public safety arena.”
It’s the third time in a year the jail has been placed on lockdown due to staffing issues. Last May, about 650 correctional officers missed shifts on the weekend of the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao boxing match. On February 2, 2015, the jail was locked down when 950 officers didn’t come in, after a blizzard dumped 19 inches of snow on the city on Super Bowl Sunday. On Monday, Alabama defeated Clemson in the college football national title game.
“One time might be a coincidence. Two times raises some eyebrows. When this has happened three times now, it’s a real problem,” Fritchey said.
When this happens, some of the staff that did come to work, are asked to work overtime. Taxpayers shelled out $160,000 in May during that lockdown and $240,000 in February during Super Bowl weekend.
“When you are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars, it’s not just the money we have to spend to make up for the people who not showing up for work, that’s money that can’t be spent somewhere else,” Fritchey said.
A spokesperson for the Cook County Sheriff’s office says there was no work stoppage and there’s no indication this is union related.
The Teamsters Local 700 president says members shouldn’t be subjected to ridicule and they can use their sick days at their discretion.
A spokesman for Sheriff Dart says they are going to be reviewing the numbers and they are going to be seeing if the people who have called in sick in the past are the same people who called in recently.