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Behind bars: Yelp reviews of Illinois correctional facilities

Thursday, September 10, 2015
Chicago Tribune
by Jemal R. Brinson

Jail photo

Cook County Jail (Scott Strazzante / Chicago Tribune)

"Beyond Scared Straight," A&E's eye-popping reality show, takes viewers into the lives of at-risk teens whose behavior could lead to jail or worse. The participants are incarcerated and at the end of each episode they get an opportunity to express how going to jail affected them.

But most people who end up in jail don't have this reality TV platform. Where would you turn to "vent" about your jail experience? A friend, relative, pastor or counselor? Maybe the local watering hole? In the age of social media, another option has emerged: sharing jail experiences on a user-review site like Yelp (a trend explored earlier by Wired Magazine and the Marshall Project here). Sites like Yelp have become a place where people talk about all aspects of life, including jail. Some reviews are jokes but others use this evolving digital platform to express earnest views about an experience rarely discussed in public forums.

On Yelp, prison and jail reviews are filed under the same place you'll find DMV and post offices: "Public Services & Government." Reviews range from comments about bad food to advice on how to dress when going to visit an incarcerated relative.

Of being booked into Cook County Jail, Frank G. writes "If you've ever said to yourself 'I wonder what it is like to be handled like a peice (sic) of meat in the stockyard?' ..." Getting by while locked up, Frank gives this advice: "Keep to yourself, but remember this don't let anyone punk you. It is a sure sign of weakness and they'll move in."

Below is a breakdown of Illinois correctional facility reviews on Yelp:

Cook County Department of Corrections


Review from Michelle R. (Chicago): "Came in for the first time to visit a friend. ... When I arrived, no one knew the number to call the cell block where my friend was at. It took them 20 minutes just to locate the number. I then asked if they had any information on how to put money on my friend's books & one employee answered with "No we don't, but the inmate can tell you." Read the full review

Review from Martin N. (Chicago): "My three days in Cook County Jail was a learning experience. This place is the biggest money making scam ever! I met all sorts of individuals locked up there that were arrested over PETTY NONSENSE! It became clear to me that the top priority of Cook County is to lock up as many people as possible over any little nit pick item the CPD can come with." Read the full review

Review from Angela P. (Darien): "Getting through security was somewhat time-consuming, but it wasn't excruciating. We were directed to another building, and I could not believe we had to walk across the compound to find a building. It seemed unsafe, even with prisoners behind bars, to wander around jail property. Take someone with you if you're visiting..." Read the full review

Review from Frank G. (Chicago): If you've ever said to yourself "I wonder what it is like to be handled like a peice of meat in the stockyard?" First they cart a paddy wagon full of then to the county court house. Then you're actually herded into large open holding pens. THen you're marked with bright brilliant colors on your forearm and upper arm. Just like cattle! Given a ration of bologna and bread with a packet of mustard( this is the only part that really differs from a slaughter house because i heard they fatten the beef up a little bit before they cut their heads off). Read the full review

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