billy mcguinness
Inmate Locator: letter to inmates
Researching the Cook County Jail in 2013, I discovered the “Inmate Locator” webpage, where, with any single letter of the alphabet entered into the last name search box, one could look up all current inmates (over 13,000) and access detailed information about them, including booking photos. Ostensibly, the pictures were there to facilitate contact between detainees and loved ones, but since name and birthdate should suffice to establish identity, their purpose was questionable, particularly when most detainees haven’t been convicted, but are merely awaiting trial. There was no language on the site regarding the innocence of unsentenced inmates.

Believing the easy availability of the images (and other inmate information) to be emblematic of a system in need of reform, I felt compelled to share them, but didn’t want to perpetuate what I saw as an injustice. Accordingly, in the fall of 2013, I began contacting inmates by mail and asking for permission to use their images. This effort continued into the spring of 2014, when, through a separate effort, I was able to persuade jail authorities to change the website, making it harder to access inmate information.