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Chicago Jail Population Shrinks, Costs Of Running It Still High

The jail population in Chicago's Cook County has shrunk by more than half over the past decade, but the massive reduction hasn’t led to big savings for taxpayers or a major boost in funding for crime prevention, reports WBEZ radio. Jail detainee numbers last month averaged 4,675, a 58% drop since the population peaked at 11,248 in September 2013. Inflation-adjusted operating expenditures for the jail and the sheriff’s electronic monitoring program fell just 18% from 2013 to 2023. Funds spent last fiscal year, which ended Nov. 30, totaled more than $412 million. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who oversees the jail, says the costs are largely driven by factors outside his control, such as union contracts he does not negotiate.

Corrections spending is “not aligned” with the jail population drop, said Joe Ferguson of the nonprofit Civic Federation, a Chicago-area government budget watchdog. “It’s very important in the next budgeting cycle that the sheriff is more forthcoming about what the actual operational model is and that the County Board is more rigorous in its scrutinization of that budget so that we all can understand that this money is being well spent,” said Ferguson, a former city of Chicago inspector general. Some advocates for reducing the jail population have suggested shifting funds from Dart’s agency to address court backlogs and causes of crime ranging from drug addiction to a shortage of low-income housing. "Over the last 10 years, we have worked collaboratively with our system stakeholders and partners to safely reduce overuse of the jail” but corrections budgets “have not yet responded to reduced use,” said County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.


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