An Interview with Sheriff Tom Dart, Sheriff of Cook County

Updated: Jun 7

by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism



Dr. Knight: Could you tell us your early Catholic education and its impact on your present position?


Sheriff Dart: In the 60’s the Dart family was put on a waiting list for St Barnabas (Archdiocese of Chicago) and in the meantime went to Sutherland in Beverly. When there was space all the children went to St. Barnabas (where my mom eventually taught). After elementary school, I went to Mt. Carmel High School as did my father, grandfather, and son. After high school, I went to Providence College in Rhode Island. From there I went to Loyola Law School, so my Catholic education included Carmelites, Jesuits, Dominicans, and others who supported my values and my devotion to the mission. My own children are 20,18,16,14, 12. We live in Mt. Greenwood and go to Mass almost every Sunday (my job sometimes interferes) After Church, the family frequently discusses what the Mass and homily meant to them. My present position is frequently driven by my Catholic mission.


Dr. Knight: You’ve held significant governmental positions in your career. What effect did these positions have on your movement forward?


Sheriff Dart: My experiences at home and in Catholic schools helped get me to the State Prosecutor's Office and then to the State Legislature. Early on I realized the importance of living a faith-filled mission while creating a society that has ‘giving back’ as its main component of life. I figured out what people needed in our society and then attended to it. I try to infuse positive motives in people and steer them away from indifference.

Dr. Knight: I think your readers will be interested in how you have changed the environments and the conditions of jails. Are they different from past experiences?


Jails have changed a great deal. I crave creativity so I am constantly thinking about the way people with us can transform the lives of those in the jail. At the person’s intake, I gather data that assist me in figuring out what skill set they needed to develop. The use of logic and data assists in the remediation of all involved. Many people that are in our system are people that made a mistake, not necessarily evil, although some are. When they finish their time here, many are going back to the community, so my job is to help them discern what is best for them and the community. We want them to make each person and the community better off and those leaving the jail, are less likely to re-offend.


Dr. Knight: Tell us more about your movement forward and the infusion of motivation.


Sheriff Dart: I try to think ‘outside the box each day from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Through this approach, I have been able to develop some amazing programs within the jail and the community. Some of my creative thinking has resulted in the following at the jail:

  • Farming and composting program at the jail.

  • Innovative programming in the jail to help with mental illness.

  • The use of solar panels in more areas of the jail to keep the cost of electricity down.

Within the community:

  • Provide a service to collect prescription drugs to keep them out of the sewers that pollutes water and keeps drugs out of the hands of young people who frequently use the prescription drugs of their families.

  • Community engagement events such as car light repair, food pantries, and Covid-19 vaccine events.

  • Senior programs that show how to manage money, avoid scams, and many other topics.

These are just a few of the programs we offer in the jail and community.


Dr. Knight: In October 2008 you decided to suspend all foreclosure decisions in Cook County, how did you make that decision?


Sheriff Dart: The housing crisis hit in 2008 and there was a historic number of foreclosures in CookCounty and across the country.


During this period, many tenants paid their rent in good faith, but the landlord/building owner would default on the mortgage, so tenants were being evicted through no fault of their own, and many did not know until the officers came to enforce the court-ordered eviction. So, we stopped enforcing evictions until we could figure out how to go about it in a fair way. My thoughtful approach to this crisis included providing notice before people were being evicted and also providing social services. I am proud that we were the first to take this creative approach.


Dr. Knight: In 2009 you filed a lawsuit in federal court against Craigslist, Inc. to close the ‘erotic services section of craigslist’. The suit claims that Craigslist is the largest source of “Prostitution” The lawsuit claimed that immunity by Section 230. Again, this is certainly a plus in your Catholicism. Tell us how you made this decision.


Sheriff Dart: The good thing is that Craigslist eventually straightened out but there are other websites on the dark web that need to be removed. There needs to be a sense of responsibility for these websites and how they undermine our society and contribute to the human trafficking of the most vulnerable. We need to act on the issues that effects/affect our society and undermine the laws (moral and state-regulated) we all agree are foundational.


Dr. Knight: The decisions you’ve made on behalf of jail and especially individuals in custody have been so beneficial. Could you tell us about those decisions? People are amazed at the intricate and hard work you do each day.


Sheriff Dart: When we collect data at intake, we give the person a good start in remediation. We want people to make a change in their lives, which will ultimately help the community. We know that indifference will not help in moving them to a better situation. The more we provide a skill set for them, the better they can be beneficial to the community. With the most violent, we work on reducing their violent tendencies to get them set up with some skills so as not to commit violent acts in custody. For the majority who are to be released, we then work with community groups such as Kolbe House to connect them to community resources.


Dr. Knight: I would like to say thank you for letting others know your Catholic mission and how it has driven and motivated your life. Your devotion to your Catholic mission of adhering to Christ and His Church is an important one to motivate all your readers.



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