Cook County Wins MacArthur Foundation Support To Reduce The Use Of Jails

Released On 05/27/2015

Grant is part of MacArthur’s $75 Million Safety and Justice Challenge, which supports innovation in local criminal justice systems


The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today announced that Cook County is one of 20 jurisdictions selected to receive a $150,000 planning grant to reduce the number of low level nonviolent offenders incarcerated in the Cook County Jail.


Cook County was chosen following a highly competitive selection process that drew applications from nearly 200 jurisdictions from 45 states. The 20 jurisdictions selected will work with expert consultants to develop a plan for local justice system improvement. In 2016, as many as 10 of these jurisdictions will receive a second round of funding – between $500,000 to $2 million annually – to implement their plans over two years.


“Nearly 200 diverse jurisdictions responded to our challenge, reflecting nationwide interest in reducing over-incarceration,” said Julia Stasch, President of the MacArthur Foundation. “Each of the sites selected has demonstrated the motivation, collaboration, and commitment needed to make real change in their local justice systems. We hope their local efforts will model effective and safe alternatives to the incarceration status quo for the rest of the country.”


Chief Cook County Circuit Judge Timothy C. Evans, whose office led the grant application process, said, “We are delighted at being selected for participation in the Safety and Justice Challenge because it comes at an important juncture in our efforts to improve access to justice here in Cook County. For the past two years, the criminal justice stakeholders in Cook County have worked cooperatively and collaboratively on reforms that have led to an increase in the number of people who can be safely released while awaiting trial, and to many efficiencies in court processes. The awarding of the MacArthur grant is key to those efforts, because it marks the first time that all the stakeholders have joined forces to obtain funding to support our mission to implement system-wide change.”

“Over the past two years, with the commitment of all of the actors in our criminal justice system and the support of the State Supreme Court, we’ve seen a substantial reduction in the population of the Cook County jail. Partnering with the MacArthur Foundation will help us continue our efforts to create the long-term, systemic change needed to protect residents from destructive and unnecessary detention while also maintaining public safety,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

“We are pleased that the MacArthur Foundation has recognized the work that has been initiated in Cook County to responsibly reduce jail crowding,” said Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.   “With the support of this grant, my office looks forward to continued collaboration with the other criminal justice stakeholders to identify and implement strategies to reduce jail detention that will reflect the needs of the community in safe, systematic and sustainable ways.”

Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown said, “I strongly believe that criminal justice should be restorative and not just punitive, and I am heartened by the MacArthur Foundation’s investment into creating a more recuperative criminal justice system that will focus on reducing incarceration, while aiding individuals to be law-abiding and productive members of society. I am passionate about addressing the disproportionate confinement of minorities, low-income and mentally ill individuals, particularly, and my Office is eager to work diligently on the “Safety and Justice Challenge” with the other criminal justice system stakeholders of Cook County, in a collective effort to effect a changed justice system that will benefit all citizens.”

“We are thrilled about the issuance of this grant,” said Amy P. Campanelli, Public Defender of Cook County. “The MacArthur Foundation’s recognition that we need to reduce our jail population is significant. We will happily collaborate with the other criminal justice stakeholders to gain access to treatment for our non-violent clients, especially those suffering from mental health issues. Community-based diversion and treatment programs should always be explored as a viable option to incarceration. While we cannot forget that all persons are presumed innocent, it is imperative that our non-violent clients receive reasonable bonds so they can be released, continue working and living productively, support their families, and obtain treatment while awaiting trial.”

Sheriff Tom Dart said, “I look forward to working with the other stakeholders to refocus the Cook County Dept. of Corrections on the serious offenders who need to be here awaiting trial – and away from the non-violent, mentally ill people committing crimes of survival and spending inordinate amounts of time here because the system has not been functioning for them.”

Despite growing national attention to the large number of Americans confined in state and federal prisons, significantly less attention has been paid to local jails.  Jail populations have more than tripled since the 1980s. According to recent research from the Vera Institute of Justice, nearly 75 percent of the population of both sentenced offenders and pretrial detainees nationally are in jail for nonviolent offenses such as traffic, property, drug, or public order violations. Low-income individuals and communities of color disproportionately experience the negative consequences of incarceration.


In Cook County, recent collaborative efforts by the Chief Judge, the State’s Attorney, the Public Defender, the Sheriff, the Circuit Court Clerk, and the County Board President have helped to reduce the jail population to its lowest point since 1991, while maintaining public safety.  These include increased use of electronic monitoring and pretrial supervision, deferral from prosecution programs, and courts that offer alternatives to incarceration.  The stakeholders recognize that significant challenges remain.  These include the disproportionate incarceration of people of color; recent increases in length of stay in the Cook County Department of Corrections; and continued high levels of parole and probation violations and new arrests. The criminal justice stakeholders of Cook County will use this planning grant to identify the key data and decision points that influence these outcomes, and develop a collaborative response.

Information about the selected jurisdictions, as well as news, research, and events related to the Safety and Justice Challenge, will be published on 


About the MacArthur Foundation


The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology affects children and society. More information about the Foundation’s work, including in the justice field, is available at



For more information contact Thomas Lyons, Director of Research, Office of the Chief Judge, Illinois Circuit Court of Cook County, (312) 603-3199,



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