Cook County Officials Seek to Release Vulnerable Inmates Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Certain Cook County Jail inmates were considered for release to slow spread of the headline making virus

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Inmate releases have begun at Cook County Jail as officials look to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

The hearings started this week and have been held in six courtrooms inside the Leighton Criminal Courts Building. The inmates potentially eligible for release had to fit a defined set of criteria. Those accused of non-violent offenses, elderly inmates, pregnant inmates, and anyone facing health issues that left them especially vulnerable to the virus were among those considered.

Cook county’s Chief Public Defender Amy Campanellie pushed for the releases, and had hoped for a single order to be signed by a judge.  

Campanelie says that the defender's office would address all the detainees on their list. 

 “Judge Martin has said that the judges do have a right to have those individuals brought before them," she said. "Their appearances are waived but their cases are looked individually.”

In the short time NBC 5 reporters sat in one of those courtrooms, only one person was ordered released, so he could start his probation early for a substance abuse charge.

Several others were denied release, because they either had convictions for violent crimes on their past record, or were facing charges for violent crimes.  

Those particular charges were not being heard by the court today.  Many others had their motions withdrawn because they were represented by a private attorney - who was not in court.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot says a certain percentage of those possibly released could have symptoms of the virus, and could also be homeless.

"No one should be incarcerated if they are not a flight risk or a danger to the community," she said. "We will make sure that these individuals…are [given] support and security as they are on the outside of the formal jail system.”

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