Public defenders in Cook County are being pushed to their limits by clients who do horrible things, more so than usual. The biggest complaint of Cook County Public Defender's Office staff is masturbating inmates who have become a common sight on the walk to and from the cells where they meet their clients.
The brazen actions have culminated into a letter from Public Defender Amy Campanelli telling Chief Judge Timothy Evans that her staff is at their breaking point. The letter was not made public but Campanelli confirmed she and her staff would stop visiting the jail starting November 6 if the Judge or Sheriff Tom Dart doesn't find a remedy for the situation.
Campanelli has been working in the office for over a decade and she says, "There have always been these incidents since I became a public defender. But it's never been like it is today, where it's like the behavior we're seeing now, every day, or every other day. It's just become pervasive. We've tried everything." She referenced a timeline dating back to October 2015 where all the attempts to deal with the incidents have happened yet nothing has worked. "Of late, it has become a daily occurrence," she continued. "Male detainees constantly expose themselves and masturbate while in the lockup behind the courtrooms."
In an ironic juxtaposition, the sheriff lobbied for legislation that would make indecent exposure inside jails and prisons a felony and require the inmate to register as a sex offender, a label that is stigmatized behind bars and would create problems for the rest of an inmates life, yet it was Campanelli herself and other individual public defenders that prevented the legislation from happening on principle.
Sheriff Smith says, "We feel very strongly that this would have been a tremendous deterrent. The public defender objected to that bill." Ultimately the problem did seem to improve but not for long after additional sheriff's officers were brought to monitor the courthouse lockups they were shortly removed because of the high cost, an additional $40,000 a week.
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