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$60 Million in Strip Search Settlements for Cook County Jail Prisoners

Two separate settlements totaling almost $60 million were approved between November 2010 and January 2011 for Cook County, Illinois jail prisoners who were strip searched before being released. Both settlements stemmed from federal court cases filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, one in 2004 and the other in 2006.

In one of the suits, Young v. County of Cook, up to 150,000 former prisoners are eligible for settlements of up to $200 each if they were strip searched between February 12, 2002 and March 2009. Such strip searches occurred after prisoners were returned to the jail from court before they were released. According to attorney Thomas Morrissey, those prisoners would be strip searched in groups with detainees not ordered released, and finally leave the jail at night. “They should have been released from the jail without being searched,” he said, adding that the searches stopped in March 2009 after electronic scanning technology made them obsolete.

The January 2011 settlement in Young followed a prior settlement that involved up to 250,000 prisoners who had been strip searched between January 30, 2004 and March 19, 2009. In that case, Bullock v. Sheahan, former detainees who were subjected to humiliating mass strip searches while being verbally abused by guards were eligible for awards ranging from $500 to $1,000. Also eligible were prisoners charged with misdemeanors not involving drugs or weapons who were strip searched or subjected to visual body cavity searches when they were booked into the jail.

Some prisoners might be eligible for awards in both cases; Cook County has been hit with several other jail strip search suits in recent years, too. [See: PLN, March 2010, p.18].

The November 2010 settlement in Bullock followed a 2009 trial in which the jury found that Cook County Sheriff Michael F. Sheahan, and his successor, Tom Dart, had violated the constitutional rights of the class members. The county settled Bullock after the jury’s liability verdict but before damages were awarded; Young settled prior to trial. Cook County did not admit fault in either case. Bullock v. Sheahan settled for $55.3 million, while Young v. County of Cook settled for $4.2 million.

County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said he hoped this would bring an end to strip search lawsuits involving the jail. “Hopefully, this is the last time we do this,” he stated. See: Bullock v. Sheahan, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:04-cv-01051 and Young v. County of Cook, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:06-cv-00552.

Additional sources: Chicago Tribune,

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Related legal cases

Young v. County of Cook

Bullock v. Sheahan