Since becoming the sheriff of Cook County in 2006, Tom Dart has introduced sweeping changes to the Cook County Jail, the nation’s largest single-site jail, as well as to the Sheriff’s Police force and the department that handles security for the county’s sprawling court system, also the nation’s largest.
Sheriff Dart will present Being the Sheriff with an Innovative Outlook, this year’s Andrew K. Prinz Guestship for Political Awareness, on May 5 at Elmhurst College. Admission is free, and the public is invited.
At the Cook County Department of Corrections, Dart oversees a population of more than 12,000 that includes inmates housed on site and those in alternative programs. Dart has undertaken a number of initiatives, on issues ranging from mental illness to environmental sustainability, with the overall goal of promoting the safety and security of those housed in and employed at the Cook County Jail.
Approximately 2,000 people with diagnosed mental illness are housed in the jail on any given day. Dart has been working with a group of mental health providers and the Public Defender’s Office to develop a program to screen and divert more of those inmates to community-based mental health service providers.
As part of a sustainability initiative, the sheriff’s office is expanding its jail garden, harvesting honey from on-site bee hives, and developing an urban aquaponics system. In addition to providing revenue, these projects help inmates gain marketable skills for life after prison.
Dart also dramatically changed the way Sheriff’s Police handle prostitution arrests, steering prostitutes toward rehabilitative services through the Sheriff’s Women’s Justice Program while more aggressively pursuing their pimps. Additionally, Dart has worked to change the county’s approach to evicting families in foreclosure, seeking to ensure that they have received adequate notice before eviction and offering on-site social services.
Dart’s talk will begin at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, May 5, in the Founders Lounge of the Frick Center. For more information, call (630) 617-3390.