CHICAGO (CBS) — Hundreds of inmates at the Cook County Jail were fighting Wednesday to be released while they await trial amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A total of 167 detainees have tested positive for COVID-19, and that number is growing by the day.

CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey spent the last two days in court, tracking who has been released. She reported Wednesday that judges are in a very difficult position.

Essentially, they have to weigh serious health concerns versus concerns about public safety. And the cases up for consideration ranged from low level felonies to violent habitual offenders.

It has become a familiar sight at the Cook County Jail as an ambulance is loaded up outside the building. Almost everyone walking in and out is shielded with masks and gloves.

COVID-19 cases are multiplying in the jail, which now houses 830 fewer detainees since the beginning of the stay-at-home order.

Hundreds have been released due to coronavirus concerns. Attorney Shay Allen hopes his client will one of them.

“He has expressed concern not only about the pandemic itself, but just about the living conditions in the jail,” Allen said. “It’s not a place where he feels the property guidelines of social distancing.”

His 20-year-old client, Alexis Sanchez, has chronic asthma and emphysema.
But he’s also facing two felony charges for reckless discharge of a gun and trying to fake a drug test.

Hickey asked Allen if his client would toe the line and remain on his best behavior if released.

“My client is immature, but I wouldn’t call him from my experience a danger on society,” Allen said.

On Wednesday, a Cook County Judge agreed with Allen’s argument to an extent – moving from no bond to $7,500.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office says his is one of more than 1,000 cases that they’ve reviewed. And they’ve recommended hundreds for release.

But on Wednesday, neither the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office nor the county Sheriff’s Department could give us an exact number of who had their bonds reduced due to COVID-19 concerns.

On Tuesday two offenders facing class X felonies with long histories of weapons charges were denied released.

Bail was denied for another man in isolation with a fever because his he had a history of sexually abusing young women.

Ultimately, Allen believes these unprecedented times deserve special considerations.

“In my opinion, if you’re not going to give them an opportunity to get out, you might be sentencing them to death,” he said.

CBS 2 did submit a Freedom of Information Act request for a list of names of inmates being released because of COVID-19 precautions. So far, we have not gotten a response.

Megan Hickey