Inmates Shoveling Snow in Viral Photo Were Warm, Paid: Sheriff

A photo of Cook County Jail inmates shoveling snow as the city prepares for a frigid winter blast earned the ire of social media users—but the sheriff’s office clarified that the men in the image were wearing insulated jump suits, had a warming van nearby and were part of a paid labor program.

The image was originally posted on the La Villita Facebook page, as originally reported by Block Club Chicago.

The image, which shows about six orange-clad individuals appearing to shovel snow, is paired with a caption that reads “they got inmates cleaning no real winter gear.”

Kara Smith, of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, said the inmates were part of a “community restoration vocational program” working in “distressed communities” doing deconstruction like tearing down buildings. They help address blight in exchange for six months in custody and eight months of work in the community, Smith said.

“We take out responsibilities to those in our custody very seriously and that extends to when we have people working out in the elements,” she said.

The jumpsuits in the photo were heavily insulated, Smith said, and described as the kind that hunters wear. They were also wearing hats, glove and boots, she said. There is a warming van in the corner of the photos and the participants were able to rotate in and out of the van and take breaks, she added.

Smith also said the inmates do not work in temperatures below 20 degrees.

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