Sheriff Tom Dart’s office points to drug overdoses at the Cook County jail and says it has banned prison visitors from bringing papers — including documents routinely carried by attorneys to inmates they represent.
The prison, which houses about 5,560 inmates, like other jails and jails across the country, is grappling with an influx of papers steeped in illegal narcotics, insecticides and even rat poison, according to Dart’s office, which declined to say how many overdoses were tied to deadly paper.
“The Cook County Jail has seen a worrying spike in the detection of such contraband and the significant damage it can cause,” said a sheriff’s spokesman. “Prison policies and procedures, as always, must adapt to the ever-evolving ways individuals attempt to bring in dangerous contraband.”
Dart’s office says the new rules are aimed at “limiting any potential negative impact on operations and inconvenience to visitors, including defenders,” and that the rules agreed with the office of Cook County Public Defender Sharone R. Mitchell Jr., were discussed.
But emails show some in the public defender’s office appeared surprised and concerned by the restrictions. Amy Thompson, an assistant public defender, wrote to her colleagues on Tuesday that the prison “NEVER allows ANY paper to be put into ANY department.
“We are working on an alternative and will update you as soon as we have more information,” Thompson wrote.
In a written statement, Mitchell says his office is working with Dart’s people on “a protocol that would allow public defenders to share information with their clients while the prison works on a long-term solution to address paper security concerns.”
Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell Jr.’s staff is “not aware of any allegations that our attorneys knowingly or unknowingly brought contraband into the Cook County Jail.”
Ashlee Rezin / Sun Times file
A Dart spokesman says: “Lawyers will be given access to computers to present documents to their defendants. You can still bring in paper if needed, but need to plan ahead to give the prison time to examine the material.”
Dart’s office has also stepped up screening of incoming mail for drug-tainted paper.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.
Anthony Vazquez / Sun Times File
Nationwide, in-prison deaths related to drug and alcohol poisoning hit a 20-year high in 2019, at 184 cases, according to the Justice Department.