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Cook County judges to review inmates’ cases to drastically reduce jail population

The court order will ramp up hearings for a broad array of non-violent inmates after a correctional officer tested positive for coronavirus.

Public Defender Amy Campanelli speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse after a judge ordered reviews of thousands of criminal cases with a goal of reducing the number of inmates in jail in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Public Defender Amy Campanelli speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse after a judge ordered reviews of thousands of criminal cases with a goal of reducing the number of inmates in jail in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Teams of Cook County judges this week will begin reviewing thousands of criminal cases with a goal of reducing the number of inmates in jail in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief Criminal Court Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr. Monday ordered the review in response to an emergency motion filed last week by Public Defender Amy Campanelli that seeks the immediate release of some inmates, including those who are older, have health conditions, couldn’t pay their bonds, or are charged with low-level, non-violent felony and misdemeanor crimes.

Campanelli, in her motion, cited her frustration that a smaller-scale review process that began last week had only resulted in the release of about 100 Cook County inmates.

There are currently 5,600 inmates inside the sprawling jail complex.

Martin on Monday stopped short of releasing inmates en masse and said most of hearings would be held remotely using online conferencing apps to minimize contact among lawyers, judges and court staff. Judges will review lists of defendants who defense attorneys and prosecutors determine do not to pose a threat to public safety, and full hearings would take place in cases where defense attorneys seek to have someone released despite objections from prosecutors.

Martin’s order comes the day after the Cook County Sheriff’s Department announced that a correctional officer who worked in the jail’s Cermak medical facility tested positive for COVID-19.

Martin’s order does not include reviews of inmates facing charges in cases handled at the various branch courts. Private defense lawyers also will be able to petition to have their clients’ released.