To the editors:
In his November 6 City File column, Harold Henderson stated (correctly) that among all inmates in Cook County Jail at any given time, only one out of eight is actually serving time for a criminal conviction. What the column failed to address was why the other 87 percent of the inmates are in jail. For this reason the item may have misled some readers.
As in every other county jail in the state, the vast majority of inmates in Cook County Jail are people who have been arrested and charged with a crime but who either could not make bail or were denied bail altogether prior to their trials. Indeed, the primary purpose of county jails in Illinois is to house these "pretrial detainees." Generally speaking there are only two types of convicted offenders that county jails do house: people serving time for a misdemeanor conviction (a crime carrying a penalty of less than one year of incarceration) and convicted felons awaiting transfer to state prison (where they will serve out the bulk of their sentences).
Many people, including a large number of daily news reporters and editors, fail to understand the differences between jails and prisons, and many end up using the terms interchangeably. Unless your readers fully comprehend this distinction, I'm afraid your recent City File item may have been more confusing than enlightening.
Kevin P. Morison
Public Information Officer
Illinois Criminal Justice