Jail vs. Prison with Thomas Dart, Cook County Sheriff


Thursday June 27th, 2013
Reception: 11:30am (includes a light lunch)
Presentation: 12:15pm

Niagara Foundation-Chicago office
205 North Michigan Avenue, Suite 4240
Chicago, IL, US, 60601


Thomas Dart
Cook County Sheriff


As Cook County Sheriff, Tom Dart has brought an aggressive, yet innovative approach to law enforcement. A former prosecutor and state legislator, Sheriff Dart has long fought for the rights of others and protecting the most vulnerable members of our society.

As a prosecutor, he helped initiate a massive public corruption investigation in the poverty-stricken village of Ford Heights, which led to the indictments of multiple police officers.

As a state legislator, Dart sponsored hundreds of bills that demanded accountability from state officials, while also showing a willingness to take on state bureaucracy. He re-wrote child welfare bills, wrote the state’s Sexually Violent Predators Commitment Act and led the state’s first-ever study connecting homelessness and prostitution.

Since becoming Sheriff in 2006, he has introduced sweeping changes at the Cook County Jail – the nation’s largest single site jail –, aggressively re-structured the Sheriff’s Police force, and improved operations of the Court Services Department.

At the Cook County Department of Corrections, the Sheriff oversees a population of over 12,000 that includes inmates both housed on-site and ordered to alternative programs. From addressing concerns surrounding general overcrowding and a growing mental health population to developing environmentally sustainable initiatives for inmates, Sheriff Dart relentlessly takes whatever steps necessary to improve and maintain the safety and security of all those housed and employed at the Cook County Jail.

There are approximately 2,000 people with diagnosed mental illness housed in the jail on any given day, making it the largest mental health facility in the country. Sheriff Dart has been working with a group of Mental Health providers and the Public Defender’s Office to develop a program to screen and divert those with diagnosed mental illness to community based mental health services. He firmly believes that a service provider is a far more productive setting, than a jail, for those with mental illness.

Under Sheriff Dart’s direction, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office began the expansion of its jail garden, the harvest of honey from on-site bee hives, and continue growth of an urban aquaponics system. This summer, the Sheriff will enhance his agriculture program by introducing 25 grass-fed chickens. As is with other such programs at the jail, these projects will offer inmates the opportunity to gain valuable and marketable skills that can be utilized upon release.

At the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department, assigning specialized gang units has curbed suburban gang activity through their focus on aggressive regional tactical work, backing up smaller suburban police departments unable to handle the crime rates on their own. The internet sex crimes unit, also founded under Dart, actively pursues child pornography and human trafficking cases; such work provided the foundation for his federal lawsuit against the website Craigslist, which ultimately led to the removal of the Adult Services section previously listed on their website.

He has also dramatically changed the way Sheriff’s Police handle arrests in prostitution cases – steering prostitutes toward rehabilitative services through the Sheriff’s Women’s Justice Program instead of to jail, while also doing more to go after the men who pimp these women and buy their services.

Sheriff Dart also worked to significantly change the county’s approach to evicting families in foreclosure – ensuring they have received proper notice before being put out on the street, offering on-site social services, and refusing to evict after banks admitted to robo-signing foreclosure documents.

In 2009, Time magazine named Sheriff Dart one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, thanks to his groundbreaking efforts.

He and his wife Patricia live on Chicago’s South Side and are the proud parents of 5 young children.

The views and opinions expressed on The Falls are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Niagara Foundation, its staff, other authors, members, partners, or sponsors.