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E. Right Now!

“Now is better than no time at all!”

Finally, several women pointed out that being arrested and coming to jail can be an important turning point in a woman’s life. For many women who are addicts, the time in jail is the longest stretch of time that they have been clean and sober for years. Although women in need should receive assistance outside, they may respond to offered help while detained. Many pointed out that “right now” would be a good time to get help. Most women indicated that, at this point, their primary concern is housing upon release from jail.

Despite the efforts of Cook County Jail, the Cook County Sheriff’s Division of Women’s Justice Services, and other private agencies, resources for women in jail are severely lacking. Furthermore, not only do women need access to services for the reported issues but also a comprehensive plan of support needs to be implemented and followed through with each woman upon release.

In early 2001, Cook County government created the Cook County Integrated System for Women Offenders Project (ISWO). This multi-agency approach to women in the justice system has the following mission statement: “Create innovative sentencing options, and develop a system-wide response to address the needs and account- ability of female offenders through a collaborative effort of the criminal justice system and community.” Since its inception, the ISWO project is leading the way to create and implement innovative and gender-responsive treat- ment models that focus on rehabilitation and assistance for women detainees.

RECOMMENDATION: Pass legislation that provides alternatives to incarceration sentencing options so Cook County Judges can sentence women to services rather than prison. Create the model Residential Treatment and Transition Center for Women, which will help detainees access the many services they need, reduce recidivism, and help heal families.



On October 31, 2001, members of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless conducted in-depth one-on-one surveys with 235 women detained that day in Cook County Jail. On that day, 1,117 women were detained in the two women’s divisions (Division 3 and 4) of the jail and in the Female Furlough Program (SFFP), MOM’s, and the Gender Responsive Drug Treatment programs of the Cook County Sheriff’s Division of Women’s Justice Services. The surveys were conducted by volunteers and staff who had received extensive prior training on the survey procedures. All women interviewed had volunteered to be surveyed and then received randomly assigned numbers. Each woman waited for her number to be called and was then interviewed.

Each survey took approximately 15-30 minutes to com- plete. The women received no compensation or benefits for participating. Prior to agreeing to be surveyed, they were read a statement informing them of the voluntary nature of this survey, that the information recorded could not be traced back to them specifically, and that agreeing to participate in the survey in no way affected the disposi- tion of the current charges against them.

Women surveyed were those present on the specified date the surveys were administered. This sample does not represent all women detained in the jail on October 31, 2001, nor is it a random sample. However, we believe the collective results present a reliable picture of the lives of women detained in Cook County Jail. Although great effort was made to ensure high validity of the survey through its administration by trained volunteers and staff, the possibility still exists that some questions were interpreted differently by some participants than by others.

Surveyors included Chicago Coalition for the Homeless staff, college students, staff of social service agencies, community activists, and one woman who had been formerly detained in Cook County Jail.

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