Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart blocking lawyers from bringing documents to clients at Cook County Jail

Aides say the agency is trying to prevent overdoses in the facility and is being alert for papers soaked in deadly drugs.

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The Cook County Jail, which has about 5,560 detainees.

The Cook County Jail, which has about 5,560 detainees.

Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Pointing to drug overdoses inside the Cook County Jail, Sheriff Tom Dart’s office says it has banned jail visitors from bringing in paper — including documents routinely carried by lawyers to detainees they represent.

The jail, which houses about 5,560 detainees, is, like other jails and prisons across the country, contending with an influx of paper soaked with illegal narcotics, bug killer and even rat poison, according to Dart’s office, which declined to say how many overdoses have been tied to deadly paper.

“Cook County Jail has experienced a concerning rise in the discovery of such contraband and the significant harm it can cause,” a sheriff’s spokesperson says. “Jail policies and procedures must adapt, as they always have, to the ever-evolving ways in which individuals attempt to introduce dangerous contraband.”

Dart’s office says the new rules aim “to limit any potential negative impact on operations and inconvenience to visitors, including defense attorneys,” and the rules were discussed with Cook County Public Defender Sharone R. Mitchell Jr.’s office.

But emails show some in the public defender’s office seemed surprised and distressed by the restrictions. Amy Thompson, a deputy public defender, wrote to colleagues Tuesday that the jail was “not allowing ANY paper to be brought to ANY division.

“We are working on an alternative and will update you as soon as we have any more information,” Thompson wrote.

In a written statement, Mitchell says his office was working with Dart’s people on “a protocol that would allow public defenders to share information with their clients while the jail works on a long-term solution to address the security concerns about paper.”

Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell Jr., whose staff is “unaware of any accusations that our attorneys wittingly or unwittingly brought contraband into the Cook County Jail.”

Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell Jr.’s staff is “unaware of any accusations that our attorneys wittingly or unwittingly brought contraband into the Cook County Jail.”

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

The spokesperson for Dart says, “Attorneys will be provided access to computers to display documentation to their defendants. They may still bring in paper if necessary but must schedule it ahead of time to give the jail time to examine the material.”

Dart’s office also has intensified its screening of incoming mail for paper soaked with drugs.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times file

Nationally, jail deaths tied to drug and alcohol intoxication reached a 20-year high in 2019 of 184 cases, according to the Justice Department.

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