Cook County

Sexual Harassment in Cook County Jail: Indecent Activity Alleged By Public Defenders

The Cook County jail is a toxic environment where inmates expose themselves, act out sexually, harassing, attacking and threatening female public defenders and female correctional officers. The allegations are detailed in court papers.

Four assistant Public Defenders, along with their two civil rights attorneys, appeared in federal court to allege they are sexually harassed by inmates at the Cook County jail, who expose and sexually gratify themselves as the lawyers simply try and do their jobs.

“It’s about domination, harassment, degradation of women and our position is it has to stop,” said attorney Robin Potter.

“It’s been going on, it’s getting worse and nobody knows what to do about it,” echoed attorney Nieves Bolanos.

Sixteen female public defenders have filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging the abuse.

In the complaint the Public Defenders state they “have been battered by detainees in the lockups and jails.”

Been “grabbed…by the legs or buttocks;”

and “on at least one occasion…bodily fluids” were thrown onto one of the women.

Among the defendants in the case: Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and Public Defender Amy Campanelli, who has ordered her staff to stay out of the lockups.

That, says the assistant Public Defenders, denies inmates due process and does nothing to correct the abuse.

“The employer (Campanelli) and the sheriff must create a safe workplace where they can do their jobs. That’s it,” said Potter.

But it’s not just Public Defenders. Attorneys for female Cook County correctional officers say their clients believe jail policies restrict their ability to control indecent behavior.

“You can tell them to stop but if they don’t stop you are not allowed to restrain them to stop it,” said attorney Marni Willenson.

“Nobody should go to work and have to fear that somebody else is going to masturbate at or on them,” replied co-counsel Joshua Karsh.

Cara Smith, Director of Cook County Jail, cited the importance of staff safety but also noted inmates languish in jail too long. And some additional penalties like putting them on the Sex Offender Registry—would be a deterrent but require legislation.

Inside the Cook County jail, according to a court document, inmates have formed a gang called Savage Life.

Attorney Robin Potter said the group remains somewhat mysterious. “We are not totally sure but we understand it is a group of inmates who compete to exercise their sexual prowess and to harass the women by masturbating and they get rewarded,” she said.

The assistant Public Defenders are asking for an independent federal monitor to take control of the situation. All sides will be back in court at the end of November.

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