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Detainees regularly expose themselves to female public defenders in Chicago, suit alleges

Megan Crepeau, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

For a short time earlier this year, detainees were handcuffed in the lockup behind courtrooms, decreasing the number of incidents, according to the suit. But Campanelli personally objected to the practice, according to the suit, and it was discontinued a short time later.

"The Public Defender cannot support legislation or measures that significantly increase penalties for detainees who engage in this behavior or that subject detainees to inhumane practices," the statement issued Wednesday by the office said.

Some detainees have also been required to wear specially built jumpsuits that restrict access to their groin area. The lawsuit alleged that the sheriff's office abandoned that strategy, but Smith said it is still in effect.

Several detainees were charged with arson earlier this year after setting fire to a pile of the restrictive jumpsuits.

Some of the female attorneys have filed criminal charges against the men, but that has not been an effective deterrent, either, according to the lawsuit. The charges are often dropped.

At least one female assistant public defender who filed such a charge faced retaliation for doing so, the suit said.

"Supervisors ... bad-mouthed and criticized her throughout the criminal court system for filing charges," the suit said.

Besides, a misdemeanor public indecency charge means little to a detainee potentially facing a long prison sentence for a felony, Smith said.

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"They could care less," she said, "So we really lack sufficient tools to respond to this problem."

Detainees who are known to engage in such misbehavior are now brought to the courtroom separately, Smith said, and are prohibited from congregating with other detainees in the lockup.

But new incidents still spring up regularly, she said.

"Why do they do it? Because they can and because it creates chaos and it makes people uncomfortable," Smith said. "And mostly because there's not many tools we have to respond to it, and they spend far too long in our custody waiting for cases to be adjudicated."

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