Chicago Cardinal Francis George toured the Cook County Jail yesterday, saying he was struck by the plight of inmates at the sprawling complex as well as their sheer numbers, the Chicago Tribune says. George spent much of his tour hearing from some of the more than 10,000 incarcerated there. He said they had complaints about everything from the conduct of some jail guards to the food to their lack of regular access to lawyers.
George’s visit with representatives of the watchdog John Howard Association for Prison Reform organization came during what has been a trying half-year at the facility. Both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office are investigating alleged inmate beatings by guards in recent years, and a Cook County grand jury is preparing a report on conditions for the county’s chief Criminal Court judge. Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan has appointed a panel of experts to consider brutality allegations.
George said inmates complained that “sometimes guards are slow to intervene when there was a fight in which someone was hurt.” Inmates had more complaints about such things as access to working telephones, air circulation, plumbing and having to sleep on the floor. Many issues involve the poor health of those who arrive at the jail, he said.