Thirty-two percent of the jail’s employees didn’t show up for the day shift, which runs from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Another quarter of the jail’s staffed failed to make it to the evening shift, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office told local media.
The 96-acre jail, located in Chicago’s South Lawndale neighborhood, is often referred to as the largest single-site detention facility in the United States. Its population was just shy of 10,000 over the weekend, according to the sheriff’s website.
“It’s the perfect storm of situations: It’s Mother’s Day and there is beautiful weather,’’ Cara Smith, a spokeswoman for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, told the Tribune. “Unfortunately, it’s devastating to the people who do come to work and for the taxpayers.”
With so few guards and other employees available, all of the jail’s 10 divisions were affected by the lockdown. Only “essential movement” was allowed in the jail during the day, meaning inmate activities were limited to health appointments and court appearances. Scheduled visits went ahead as planned, but exercise and other detainee programs were canceled.
“The extraordinary number of call offs puts additional pressure on the men and women of the Sheriff’s office who come to work as scheduled,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
Absenteeism has been a recurring problem at the Cook County Jail. Last Mother’s Day, a staggering 420 officers called out, forcing the facility to be placed on lockdown, as the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
That lockdown cost the city $75,000 in overtime expenses to cover the employees who did show up for their shifts, the Tribune reported at the time.
Several weeks later, on Father’s Day 2016, the jail was again sent into lockdown mode after more than 300 employees called out, according to NBC 5. Game seven of the NBA finals took place that night, the sheriff’s office was quick to note.
The mass absences tend to “track suspiciously” with bad weather, holidays and major sporting events, read a Tribune editorial from last year.
In May 2015, more than 600 jail employees called out of work during a weekend that featured two major sporting events: the Kentucky Derby and the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao boxing match, as local media reported. On Super Bowl weekend the same year, nearly 900 bailed on their shifts, according to the Tribune.
The situation has gotten so bad that the Cook County Jail came up with a name for it: “Super Bowl Fever.”
If last year’s Mother’s Day sickout was any indicator, this one will be short-lived. “All those sick correctional officers returned to work,” the Tribune reported, “feeling much better.”
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