The Very Real & Present Danger of Prison Overcrowding

The start of this entry began as a humorous look at the state of overcrowding currently being experienced at Cook County Department of Corrections and Illinois Department of Corrections. After a period of research that highlighted the devastating effects potentially caused by detention center overcrowding, the humorous aspect has been eliminated and in its place a plea to state legislators for common sense to prevail.

Sheriff Tom Dart
Governor Pat Quinn


Cook County Department of Corrections, the largest single site correctional facility in the country is under the direct supervision of the Sheriff of Cook County Thomas (Tom) Dart. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says the jail is nearly full, and he’s concerned that the facility will be bursting at the seams as summer months approach and arrests typically rise with the mercury. Operating a capacity that teeters constantly between 96% and 100% at any given time, the stage has been set for a calamity . Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle says she doesn’t have enough money to house anymore inmates in Cook County Jail.  She wants the jail to get rid of about 1500 inmates because the place is overcrowded and the county doesn’t have the cash for anyone else.

In a similar dilemma, Illinois Department of Corrections is faced with a statewide issue of overcrowding. In 2010, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, under pressure from Associated Press, did away with the standard good time allotment that allowed deserving inmates to be released 90 to 180 days ahead of their scheduled release dates. In an effort to save the State of Illinois but instead adding insult to injury, Gov. Quinn has proposed and proceeded to close various prisons around the state. To deal with the overcrowding, IDOC plans to use gymnasiums at more than half a dozen prisons across the state to house inmates.

Ironically, over 70% of the residential bodies of both IDOC as well as CCDOC consist of nonviolent offenders. This means that both of these departments are filled with inmates that are NOT a threat to public safety. In the rest of the country drug addiction had been classified as a disease; however in Illinois, addicts are arrested and regarded as criminals. Each institution houses a great many individuals in dire need of mental health assistance. The reconsideration and reassignment of individuals within those two categories alone would reduce the inmate  population by at least 50%.

 As a final appeal for change, a list has been included below. The list is comprised of American detention facilities that thought overcrowding was a good idea. Behind the names and locations are the dates and casualties caused by the uprising at these institutions. Hopefully Cook County and the State of Illinois can avoid their place on the list and in history.

  • Southport Correctional Facility, New York, June 29, 1990 – 27 people injured
  • Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, Easter Sunday, 1993 – 9 inmates killed, 1 corrections officer.
  • San Quentin State Prison, California, January 2006 – at least 25 injured
  • North County Correctional Facility, Castaic, California, February 2006 – 1 inmate killed, over 100 injured
  • New Castle Correctional Facility Riot, New Castle, Indiana, 24 April 2007
  • 2009 Northpoint Training Center riot in Danville, Kentucky, August 21, 2009 – 80 inmates involved, 5 buildings burned down
  • Adams County Correctional Center, Natchez, Mississippi, May 20, 2012.