Inmates at the Cook County Jail with histories of violence are often transported with other inmates, a CBS 2 investigation has found. But the jail could prevent future incidents by simply moving them separately, according to a jail expert who has worked on reforms on some of the biggest jails in the country.
Jeffrey Schwartz has worked to reform numerous jail systems across the U.S., including the infamous Rikers Island jail in New York City. He says inmates with histories of violence inside the jail should be transported separately from other inmates.
The jail already has these policies in place. It designates certain inmates as “high-risk movements” — a designation that can require the inmate to be moved individually or in smaller groups, rather than on a bus with as many as 50 others. But it didn’t apply those policies to some inmates, even though those inmates had been documented attacking other detainees, and, in some cases, escaping their restraints on jail buses.
“Some of this is just common sense,” Schwartz said. “You would transport that inmate separately and carefully.”
The Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the jail, told CBS 2 there are between 70 and 100 inmates on high-risk movement at any point in time. The jail houses more than 5,000. But Schwartz says those inmates who have demonstrated violent tendencies or escaping their restraints should also be deemed high-risk.
“There are inmates who are really good at escaping, at getting out of restraints,” Schwartz said. “It does make sense to take extra precautions with them.”
One inmate, Givontae Surratt, had escaped his restraints on jail buses four separate times, CBS 2 found. And there were 18 other inmates with multiple fights in the jail who then started fights on buses — in some cases, more than one fight on a bus. Schwartz said extending the high-risk movement policy to those inmates is one potential solution.
“When you have an inmate with 10, 15, 17 incidents of violence towards other inmates or staff in the jail, and the history of creating problems while being transported and getting out of their handcuffs, if you ask staff, that’s no one’s favorite inmate,” Schwartz said.
“Put that inmate on a van instead of a bus,” Schwartz said. “Transport that inmate with one, two, three other inmates, probably not more, and have a staff member who is full time watching those inmates. And if someone starts struggling against their restraints … you stop the van, you secure the inmates, you call for additional help.”
That didn’t always happen in Cook County. In some cases, CBS 2 found the jail buses drove for minutes, sometimes longer, before stopping. During that time, the attackers continued beating their victims, who were still restrained.
Schwartz’s message to the sheriff is simple: “First, follow the policy. Then if there are still problems, change the policy and change the procedures.”
One of the most important things to remember, Schwartz said, is that, although the inmates are accused of crimes, they still have rights and deserve to be kept safe.
“Every prisoner has a family they came from,” Schwartz said. “Every prisoner is a human being. They deserve protection. The law requires that you provide protection.”