Lake County, IL

Change in Jail Population 14%

Action Areas Community Engagement Interagency Collaboration Mental Health Racial Disparities

Last Updated


Lake County joined the Safety and Justice Challenge to help reduce incarceration rates for individuals with low-risk, non-violent charges, and to address racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system. The reliance on detention in jail disrupts the stability of individuals, their families, and the community at large while also leading to higher re-arrest rates and worse case outcomes with more back-end incarceration.

According to several independent analyses, individuals being detained pretrial and people with unmet behavioral health needs were primary drivers of the Lake County jail population. In 2017, 80% of people in jail were detained pretrial with an average length of stay of 19 days and only 5% of the jail population remained in custody for less than 3 days. A May 2018 snapshot revealed that 44% of the jail population in custody had cash bonds over $50,000.

An additional independent analysis of 2018 jail admissions indicated that Black adults were 8.5 times more likely than white adults to be admitted to jail, while Latino adults were 1.9 times more likely than white adults to be admitted to jail. Similarly, an analysis of 2019 jail admissions indicate Black people made up 35% of jail admissions and only 7% of the Lake County population.

Lake County stakeholders, convened by the Sheriff’s Office, collectively decided it was time to take action and address pretrial detention, behavioral health needs contributing to system involvement, and racial and ethnic disparities.


Since joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, Lake County has advanced a number of strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just, and equitable for all.



In 2021, Lake launched a police drop-off center to divert people in mental health/co-occurring substance use crisis from the criminal justice system. The Wellness Center builds on a previous strategy to provide a warm handoff for people exiting jail, as a way to provide upstream diversion options that had been missing. It will serve as a hub for community partners to increase health, equity, and health literacy.



COAST (Crisis Outreach and Support Team) expands an existing mobile co-responder program that dispatches a social worker and sheriff’s deputy to follow up with individuals who encountered law enforcement while suffering mental health/substance use crises. Co-responders can provide a warm handoff to the Wellness Center for linkage to services and continue to follow up with clients for 60-90 days.



The county improved pretrial decision-making by providing more comprehensive information at the first court appearance, including a completed assessment and pretrial services report. The goal is to provide a risk assessment on 75% of people appearing in bond court. This strategy also includes a program to provide court date reminders to increase court appearance rates.



Lake County began addressing racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system by first collecting data to better understand the challenges and inform their approach. An Equity Team of community members and system actors was created to begin developing a plan to reduce disparities, incorporate community voices, and increase trust and communication between the justice system and the community.



The CJCC was formed in 2019 and includes community members and system actors who collaboratively review data trends in the jail population and work to identify areas for potential system intervention (e.g., pretrial reform, domestic violence, overdoses). The CJCC meets quarterly, shifting to virtual meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.



Lake County has been working to increase data capacity and transparency. In response to feedback from the CJCC, the Sheriff’s Office launched a public-facing jail data dashboard that includes admissions and release data broken down by categories such as race and ethnicity, gender, age, and offense type. The State’s Attorney’s Office is also working to build a public-facing dashboard.


Lake County has made progress towards its goal of improving the criminal justice system, particularly in the areas of reducing the jail population during the COVID-19 pandemic, improving pretrial release decision-making, addressing community engagement and equity, and creating and enhancing behavioral health treatment options.

Quartery ADP for Lake County (2018-2024)

14.4% from baseline

More Results

Lake County achieved a modest reduction in their average daily jail population as they began implementing their SJC strategies. The initial planning and implementation work paved the way for a quick system response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Spring 2020 and sustained efforts into 2021. Since the pandemic began, Lake County has maintained an average monthly ADP around 18% below their baseline.

In order to look outside the system to the community impacts, Lake County partnered with community researchers to conduct preliminary outreach and learn about the issues most important to the community. This initial effort prompted the Lake County Equity Team to look deeper at data to identify potential intervention points in the pretrial phase. The Team decided to explore existing data around failures to appear for court hearings and has partnered with researchers to learn more about the reasons why people don’t appear, in order to identify potential policy and practices changes that best support hearing attendance.

Participation in the Safety and Justice Challenge also increased collaboration and connection between criminal justice system actors and the community in Lake County’s efforts to rethink its justice system.

Lake County recognized it was critical to meet people’s behavioral health needs to help them avoid more system involvement or keep them out of the system entirely. To that end, Lake County worked tirelessly to launch the Living Room Wellness Center and expand the COAST program.

The Wellness Center will be open 24/7 with clinical staff available, many of whom have lived experience with the justice system, and will serve as both a walk-in facility and police-drop off for crisis intervention services. It is an exciting program that centers the justice-involved person and seeks to provide a holistic approach. The COAST program is also expanding to include a peer support specialist who works with the social worker and sheriff’s deputy to provide follow up support after a person has an opioid overdose or is in a mental health crisis and has a law enforcement encounter.

A critical component to the future success of the Wellness Center was crisis intervention team (CIT) training for Sheriff’s deputies. Between 2018 and 2021, 99% of deputies were trained in CIT to best position officers to effectively communicate and de-escalate situations with individuals in crisis.

Remaining Challenges

There are always challenges when implementing system reform efforts and Lake County is focused on meeting the challenges head on. Criminal justice system partners will continue to address concerns about how best to keep the community safe, while valuing every person’s rights and human dignity.

Additionally, while the jail population declined under COVID-19, the pandemic continues to have a significant impact on every aspect of the county’s local justice system and uniquely affects incarcerated people. Through their SJC work, Lake has laid a foundation of collaborative, data-driven strategies, including the necessary internal infrastructure and local stakeholders supportive of the work, and positioned the county to respond to the pandemic swiftly and effectively.

Moving forward, Lake County will continue to emphasize the importance of improving data capacity and transparency to inform future system improvements and implement best practices that reduce the jail population while working towards eliminating systematic racial and ethnic disparities.

Lead Agency

Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Contact Information

Anthony Vega


Lake County Sheriff's Office, Lake County State's Attorney's Office, 19th Judicial Circuit Court & Adult Probation/Pretrial Division, Lake County Public Defender, Lake County Health Department, Nicasa Behavior Health Services, and the Healthcare Foundation of Northern Lake County, Lake County Workforce Development, Independence Center, and Northern Illinois Recovery Community Organization (NIRCO)

Follow @LakeCoILSheriff

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