Cook County Jail

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Aerial view of the Cook County Jail complex

The Cook County Jail, located on 96 acres (39 hectares) in South Lawndale, Chicago, Illinois, is operated by the Sheriff of Cook County.[1]

As of 2017, Cook County operated the third-largest jail system in the United States by inmate population (after Los Angeles County and New York City jail systems).[2]

The jail has held several well-known and infamous criminals, including Tony Accardo, Frank Nitti, Larry Hoover, Jeff Fort, Richard Speck, John Wayne Gacy and the Chicago Seven.

It was one of three sites in which executions were carried out by electrocution in Illinois. Between 1928 and 1962, the electric chair was used 67 times at the jail, including the state's last electrocution, that of James Duke, on August 24, 1962. The state's other electrocutions were carried out at the Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill and at the Menard Correctional Center in Chester.


19th and 20th century[edit]

In the mid-to-late-1800s suspects in serious criminal matters were held at the site of the Cook County Criminal Court Building on Hubbard Street in a jail attached to the courthouse (the jail part was on the same block, at the back, and is sometimes identified by reference to the corner of Dearborn and Illinois Streets). A separate short-stay city jail called the "Bridewell" on Polk Street, officially the House of Correction, housed less serious offenders from within the city. The city Bridewell moved to the site of the present jail complex at 29th and California in 1871 (at the time of the Great Chicago Fire) but the County's serious alleged offenders did not move there until the mid-20th century. When the two facilities began to be located together, they first gained the reputation as the 'largest concentration of inmates in the free world.' Later, the County and City jails were institutionally merged by the Illinois legislature, officially called the Cook County Department of Corrections, overseen by the Cook County Sheriff's Office.[3][4]

21st century[edit]

One of the largest clusters of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in the entire United States occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of April 22, 2020, at least 812 confirmed cases were linked to the jail; due to a lack of testing, the actual number of infections linked to the jail is believed to be higher.[5][6] The jail's inmate population dropped by almost one-fifth during the coronavirus pandemic after a state judge ordered a review of cases involving low-risk, primarily non-violent detainees.[7] At least six inmates and one guard have died.[8][9]


At Metropolitan Correctional Center, Chicago (MCC Chicago) female prisoners needing to be isolated, as of 2005, have been taken to the Cook County Jail as the security housing unit (SHU) at the former is only for males.[10]

U.S. Department of Justice report[edit]

In July 2008, the civil rights division of the United States Department of Justice released a report finding that the Eighth Amendment civil rights of the inmates has been systematically violated.[11][12] The report found that the CCJ failed to adequately protect inmates from harm or risk of harm from other inmates or staff; failed to provide adequate suicide prevention; failed to provide adequate sanitary environmental conditions; failed to provide adequate fire safety precautions; and failed to provide adequate medical and mental health care.

Specific alleged violations that have resulted in Federal sanctions and/or class action lawsuits include:

  1. Systematic beatings by corrections officers
  2. Poor food quality
  3. Inmates' being forced to sleep on cell floors due to overcrowding and mismanagement (resulting in a $1,000 per inmate class-action settlement)
  4. Rodent infestation and injury caused to sleeping inmates by rat and mouse bites
  5. Violations of privacy during multiple invasive strip searches
  6. Failure to provide adequate medical care, including failure to dispense medications
  7. Invasive and painful mandatory tests for male STDs (resulting in a $200 per inmate class action settlement)
  8. Unnecessarily long waiting time for discharge upon payment of bond, completion of sentence, or charges being dropped. Wait times are currently routinely in excess of 8 hours, nearly all of which is spent with many inmates packed into tiny cells.

In popular culture[edit]

The women's section of the former Cook County jail near Hubbard Street is the setting used for the musical Chicago, as well as its 2002 film adaptation. The present jail is used in segments of TV series including Chicago Fire and Better Call Saul.

B.B. King's Live in Cook County Jail album features a live recording of a concert that he performed for the jail's inmates on September 10, 1970.

A live album Concert: Friday the 13th - Cook County Jail featuring performances by jazz musicians Jimmy McGriff and Lucky Thompson was released on the Groove Merchant label in 1973)

The song "My Long Walk to Jail" on Filter's 2002 album The Amalgamut includes a sample of an incoming call from Cook County Jail.

The Cook County Prison was referenced to by Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) in the film The Blues Brothers as serving oatmeal to inmates.

The Cook County Prison is where Bigger Thomas is held, in Richard Wright's Native Son.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cook County Sheriff's Office - Home Page". Cook County. Cook County. Archived from the original on April 23, 2020. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  2. ^ Breeanna Hare & Lisa Rose, Pop. 17,049: Welcome to America's largest jail, CNN (September 26, 2016).
  3. ^ "Cook County Jail's History". Cook County Sheriffs Office. Retrieved 2019-08-05.
  4. ^ "Jails and Prisons". Encyclopedia of Chicago. Newberry Library and Chicago History Museum. 2005.
  5. ^ "Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count - The New York Times". 2020-04-22. Archived from the original on 2020-04-22. Retrieved 2020-04-22.
  6. ^ A jail in Chicago is now the largest-known source of U.S. infections., New York Times (April 8, 2020).
  7. ^ Grimm, Andy (Apr 7, 2020). "Federal judge holds hearing on lawsuit filed over Cook County Jail coronavirus response". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on April 11, 2020. The jail population dropped nearly 20% — to 4,547 — after Chief Criminal Court Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr. mandated a sweeping review of criminal cases of hundreds of low-risk, mostly non-violent detainees.
  8. ^ ABC 7 Chicago Digital Team. "Coronavirus Chicago: 4th Cook County Jail detainee dies after testing positive for COVID-19". Chicago. Archived from the original on April 29, 2020. Retrieved May 10, 2020.
  9. ^ Heffernan, Shannon (April 30, 2020). "Inside the Jail With One of the Country's Largest Coronavirus Outbreaks". ProPublica. Archived from the original on May 10, 2020. Retrieved May 10, 2020. Seven people have died: six inmates and one guard
  10. ^ Kerman, Piper. Orange is the New Black (Chapter 18: It Can Always Get Worse). 2010; ISBN 978-0-385-53026-2 (Location 4394).
  11. ^ Davey, Monica. "Federal Report Finds Poor Conditions at Cook County Jail." The New York Times. July 18, 2008.
  12. ^ "'A serious problem' U.S. attorney says Cook County Jail falls short of basic standards." Chicago Tribune. July 18, 2008.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°50′29″N 87°41′51″W / 41.8414°N 87.6975°W / 41.8414; -87.6975