A federal judge on Thursday gave final approval to a class-action settlement between Cook County and former jail detainees.
It means the Cook County sheriff will end its practice of bringing people back into the jail after a judge has ordered their release.
The agreement includes $2 million for the attorneys who represent the inmates, and a $100 check for individual class members.
“A hundred dollars is like giving me one cent,” said Larry Oruta, who is one of more than 30,000 people eligible for the payout. “A hundred dollars is an insult. I will never take that money.”
Oruta said he spent 24 days awaiting trial on workers’ compensation fraud charges. His charges were dismissed, but he said he spent 12 hours waiting in the jail after a judge ordered his release.
Oruta is one of only two class members who raised objections
Jacie Zolna is one of the attorneys on the case. He said that is “very, very low” considering the class size. Zolna said he argued in court that the fact that there were only two objections shows this is a good deal for plaintiffs.
Zolna pointed out there have been several previous federal lawsuits over the same issue of detaining people at the jail after they’ve been found not guilty or charges have been dropped. Some netted million-dollar payouts, but his is the first to force the county to stop the practice.
The sheriff has long argued that the practice of bringing men back into the jail is not illegal, and was necessary to allow them to check for warrants before release. That’s because the county jail is huge, and its system is paper based.
When the settlement was initially reached, Sheriff Spokeswoman Cara Smith said they would make the process quicker and safer.
“You know our process was not found unconstitutional, but in everything we do at the jail, we are always looking to make our system more just,” Smith said in March.
Now, jail employees will identify which inmates might be released on any given day before they head to court. If they’re ordered released, the inmates will be kept separate from the rest of the jail population.
Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow him @pksmid.