The History of the Cook County Jail
The first Cook County Jail was a wooden stockade, built in 1833 in Chicago, which was then a town of around 250 people. Today, the Cook County Department of Corrections, which takes up 8 city blocks on the Southwest Side of Chicago, is one of the largest single-site jails in the country and incarcerates nearly 100,000 people a year. The history of the jail’s expansion is a story of urban politics and patronage, battles over criminal justice reform, and the racist underpinnings of mass incarceration.
Joining me to help us learn more about the Cook County Jail is Dr. Melanie Newport, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Connecticut and author of This Is My Jail: Local Politics and the Rise of Mass Incarceration.
Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The mid-roll audio is “Slow E-Guitar Blues Solo” by JuliusH from Pixabay. The image of the Cook County Department of Corrections is by Stephen Hogan on Flickr and was taken on October 24, 2017; it is used under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).
- “Learning about American History and Politics through American Jails,” by Elaina Hancock, UConn Today, November 15, 2022.
- “Jails and Prisons,” by Jess Maghan, Encyclopedia of Chicago.
- “Cook County Jail’s History,” Cook County Sheriff’s Office.
- “A rare glimpse into a transformative time at Cook County Jail,” by Renata Cherlise, Chicago Reader, December 9, 2016.
- “Blues in the Big House [video]”
- “When a Psychologist Was in Charge of Jail,” by Melanie Newport, The Marshall Project, May 21, 2015.
- “The COVID-19 Struggle In Chicago's Cook County Jail,” Cheryl Corley, NPR, April 13, 2020.
- “Cook County to Proceed With End of Cash Bail in Wake of SAFE-T Act Ruling,” NBC5 Chicago, December 29, 2022.
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