Demolition of three Cook County Jail buildings will save taxpayers money, county says

By Dawn Geske | Dec 9, 2016

In an effort to reduce the county's jail population and save Cook County and its taxpayers money, three buildings at the Cook County Jail will be demolished.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify the primary driver behind the decrease in inmate population at the Cook County Jail. A previous version had attributed that decrease solely to reforms instituted by various county officials. 

CHICAGO – In an effort to reduce the county's jail population and save Cook County and its taxpayers money, three buildings at the Cook County Jail will be demolished.

The announcement came from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart as part of their efforts to reduce jail population, which is at its lowest level since 1991.

The demolition will include Divisions 1, 3 and 17 of the jail, a move that is expected to save more than $3 million in building operating costs during fiscal year 2017. It will also avoid a purported $188 million in capital costs over the next decade.

“The estimate for cost savings was derived by calculating the cost of maintenance and repair for the outdated and inefficient building over the next decade,” Becky Schlikerman, Cook County spokeswoman, told the Cook County Record.

As the number of detainees decreases in the Cook County Jail, Preckwinkle believes it is “logical and fiscally responsible to reduce the number of divisions at the jail.” The jail population, which previously hovered around 10,000 has been decreased by 20 percent, based on reforms enacted to reduce the number of non-violent detainees at the jail. Specifically, a Cook County spokesman said the decrease in jail population has been driven by bond court judges' decisions to no longer require cash bonds of many people accused of minor, non-violent crimes. 

Two of the three buildings at the jail have sat dormant for several years because of the declining jail population. The buildings were built back in the 1920s and according to Dart, “are in need of constant and costly repairs,” which is one of the reasons to have the buildings demolished.

With the demolition of the three buildings, the jail capacity will go from 11,300 to about 9,600, which is a 15 percent decrease overall. The buildings for Division 3 and 17 are 135,000 square feet, while Division 1 is much larger at 344,000 square feet.

“Demolition is already underway at Division 3,” Schlikerman said. “Division 3 will be completely finished by spring 2017. The Division 17 demolition project is currently scheduled to begin early January 2017. Division 1 and 1A are scheduled to begin the demolition process in 2018 and will be completed by 2019.”

Reduction of the buildings in the county system is part of Preckwinkle’s plan to increase efficiency and reduce cost through real estate. She has a goal of reducing the county’s overall real estate footprint by 1 million square feet by 2018. This demolition will account for a 479,000-square-foot decrease.

With the demolition of the buildings at the jail, Sam Randall, director of communications at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office told the Cook County Record: “There are no formal staffing reductions planned at this time.”

In the same announcement, the county stated that this is just one in a number of expense-reduction strategies the county will undergo in fiscal year 2017. While not changing jail staffing levels at this time, the county has said it has plans to reduce overall workforce, shrink its real estate footprint, consolidate warehouse space and decrease operating tax allocation to the Cook County Health and Hospital System.

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