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Cook County Jail at 2700 S California Ave. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

Female public defenders in Chicago are now suing the city, saying it hasn’t done enough to stop masturbating inmates from exposing themselves.

A half-dozen attorneys claim that serial instances of indecent exposure and masturbation are a major problem in Chicago’s courtroom lock-ups and county jails.

Reuters reports that officials are aware of the problem and have acknowledged its severity. Both Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart as well as the head of the local public defenders office, Amy Campanelli, admitted the regularity with which such incidences happen.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, alleges that over 200 female public defenders and law clerks have endured “heinous sexual misconduct” by male inmates.

Inmates at the Cook County Jail “have repeatedly exposed their penises, masturbated, and engaged in other acts of sex-based aggression, verbal threats and harassment, and on an almost daily basis” at that, says the complaint.

The New York Times, recounting the argument, writes that the half-dozen plaintiffs say Cook County hasn’t taken the appropriate steps to protect women from detainees.

Of the 419 public defenders working in Chicago, roughly half are women – if not more.

“There have been weeks when (assistant public defender Sarah Crayton) experienced a detainee exposure or masturbation incident every day,” reads the suit, explaining the aggravations endured by one plaintiff.

Reuters

Cara Smith, chief policy officer for Sheriff Dart, says Chicago has worked diligently to solve the problem – but despite reworking inmate dress and providing incentives for serial offenders, little has changed.

And the Times says that Lewis Finkle, chief of staff for the public defender’s office, is trying to find an appropriate solution.

“However, the Public Defender cannot support legislation or measures that significantly increase penalties for detainees who engage in this behavior or that subject detainees to inhumane practices,” said Finkle in a statement.

The sheriff’s department, for its part, has tried creating new jumpsuits for inmates – full-body wear that would restrict individual access to the groin.

But inmates took to burning the jumpsuits in microwave ovens, forcing the sheriff to discontinue the program.

Another tactic, which offered inmates incentives to stop exposing themselves, also backfired.

Detainees with a history of serial masturbation were promised free pizza if they could manage to go 30 days without showing anyone their genitals. Somehow, the program only encouraged an uptick in incidences.

The Times says that, after two efforts failed, the sheriff’s office has suggested video court hearings to reduce exposure.

According to Smith, more than 200 inmates have been charged with indecent exposure since January. But not surprisingly, few detainees who are awaiting trial for murder or rape seem concerned by the possibility of a misdemeanor conviction.

“This kind of behavior unfortunately is prevalent in correctional settings, whether in state prisons or jails – and it’s not just here in Illinois,” said Smith.

Sources

Female sheriff’s officers sue Dart over masturbating jail inmates

Public Defenders Sue Over Masturbating Chicago Jail Inmates

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