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Cook County Jail visitor accidentally locked up in maximum security area

After 31 hours trapped in a visiting area, Cook County Jail officials are probing on how this man got trapped in the first place.
After 31 hours trapped in a visiting area, Cook County Jail officials are probing on how this man got trapped in the first place.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

A Chicago man has been released from the maximum-security section of Cook County Jail, though he was not wrongfully convicted. The man who has only been identified as “middle-aged” was incarcerated for 31 hours and it was nothing more than an accident. After paying his weekly visit to his son, who is an inmate awaiting trial at Cook County Jail, the door to the visiting area shut and locked behind him. He was left all alone in the room for almost the entire weekend.

“We’re tremendously sorry for what this man went through,’’ the jail's executive director Cara Smith said on Wednesday. “He was told to proceed ahead and stay to the right to go to the visitor area. He encountered a door that was propped open and he went in and the door shut behind him.’’

In the early evening on Saturday, he went to see his son at Cook County Jail as he does every week. The man’s son, who is facing drug charges, had been transferred to the “super-max” section of the jail. En route to see his son, "middle-aged" encountered sheriffs he was not familiar with and was guided to a visiting area that was also unknown to him. Locked in the visiting area alone for the next 31 hours, shouting through the two feet of concrete and two steel doors proved futile, as they most definitely went unheard.

The door was propped open by a contractor who was ironically installing security cameras in the maximum security visiting area. Strangely, jail officials are not only trying to sort out how this man got himself into this unfortunate mess, but why the contractor felt it was a good idea to prop a door open in a maximum security prison. Equal blame can be placed on the sheriffs, as they are responsible for everyone visiting the correctional facility who are required to sign in and out.

Around 1 a.m. on Monday, the man was finally freed from accidental captivity. He broke a sprinkler head with his hands, which alerted the Chicago Fire Department. Nobody had checked the visiting area he was in because it’s not in use on the weekends; there was no way for him to be heard by either the guards or the prisoners. For breaking the sprinkler, he received stitches on his thumb; otherwise walking away from this ordeal unscathed.

“(We’ve) been looking at how and why and what went wrong,’’ the Cook County Jail's executive director said. “Multiple things obviously failed including a contractor leaving a door open while they did work in our jail. It was a perfect storm of circumstances that led to this horrible incident.’’