Sheriff Dart on laundry, gardens and human trafficking
11/21/2011 10:58 AM
I attended Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s annual Women for Dart Luncheon last week. I was already a fan of the former prosecutor and state legislator. Now that I’ve heard about all that his office has been up to, I like him even more.
As societal ills shift, so do the Sheriff’s priorities. He spent time last week updating us on his push to evaluate foreclosure evictions, and his de-criminalizing prostitution while actively going after pimps. He’s also talked about the need for better mental health services for his inmates. Cook County Jail has so many mental health detainees that it serves as the largest mental health hospital in Illinois, and the second largest in the United States.
Dart recently decided to drop an outside vendor and bring laundry services in-house to save tax-payer dollars. He went a step further by granting the laundry responsibilities to the jail’s military veteran population. The service is run like a company, with the vets gaining marketable business knowledge. Perhaps more important than that, he assigned them their own ward in the jail to foster the camaraderie built during their military service.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t note the sadness I felt hearing that there are enough incarcerated veterans to necessitate their own ward.
He has grown the well-known Sheriff’s Cook County Jail Garden from one to three. The original is now more than 13,000 square feet and has become so successful that the produce is sold to restaurants like Charlie Trotter’s. The new gardens are managed by the men’s boot camp and the women’s detention center. All three are operated by inmates in Master Gardener training, building their self-esteem and providing them with job skills upon release.
I’ve attended a number of the Fall Harvest events where the detainees receive their Master Gardener certificates. Some graduates have tearfully said it was the first time they felt someone--the Sheriff--was proud of them. Others have marked it as their first educational achievement, having been Chicago Public School drop outs. The Sheriff always finds a way of saying that in taking responsibility for themselves in the garden, the men learn ways of taking care of themselves in life.
But I’ve lulled us into a false sense of security here. Dart is also candid about the most horrific duties of his office including those involving children.
Last week his focus was human trafficking. The Chicago area has the fifth largest volume of human trafficking calls in the United States. Dart spoke about a West Side prostitution call his department made where they met a young girl who had clearly been trafficked. Although his office worked hard to get her back to the neighboring state from where she was lured, the story for the young girl doesn’t end well. She disappeared from what should have been a safe house and is still missing without a trace. The Sheriff carries that with him everywhere, including to that Women for Dart luncheon.