A lawsuit filed against the Cook County sheriff and other county officials by the the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University alleges the systemic use of violence at the jail of the Illinois county where Chicago is located. The lawsuit includes testimony from almost 100 inmates, and alleges, via the Chicago Tribune:
"The sadistic violence and brutality at the Cook County Jail is not the work of a few rogue officers," the class-action lawsuit states. "It is a systemic problem that has remained unchecked at the highest levels of Cook County government. The defendants have had actual knowledge of this pattern of violence for years – if not decades."
The suit accuses Cook County of failing to protect jail inmates and allowing a "sadistic culture of brutality and violence" that puts prisoners "under a constant risk of life-threatening violence."
Cook County has been dominated by the Democratic party machine for decades. The lack of a muscular political opposition makes the already Herculean task of government accountability even more difficult. A Justice Department investigative report filed in 2008 found widespread abuses and a systemic violation of inmates' constitutional rights. The Cook County jail don't hold state or federal prisoners; most of their inmates are awaiting trial. The jail apparently holds more than 12,000 prisoners, and employs nearly 11,000 people. It's the largest single site jail in the country.
Illinois' state prison came under some fire in the '90s, when the Richard Speck prison video, obtained by a local news anchor, was shown to Illinois state legislature. That video depicted Speck, a convicted mass murder, sharing a huge pile of cocaine with other inmates, who also passed around money and paraded Speck around in panties and a bra. The video also showed Speck performing oral sex on another inmate. That's when state legislators stopped the tape. They were outraged, but not much else happened.