CHICAGO — Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart has unveiled a new on-premise laundry program at the Cook County Jail that utilizes inmates to wash clothing instead of using outside contractors.
The “Clean Start” program uses 20 U.S. military veterans jailed on nonviolent charges. In addition to hands-on experience in laundry services, the program also includes a classroom component in which participants can learn business plans and entrepreneurial skills, thanks to support from Roosevelt University.
The cost for laundry equipment, education and other start-up expenses are covered by profits generated by inmate purchases from the jail commissary for items such as snacks and toiletries, according to Dart.
“This program makes so much sense on so many levels,” he says. “These men were willing to sacrifice themselves for our country, but then came home and made mistakes. We can help them with mental health services, then give them job skills and the support they need to get back on their feet.”
ARAMARK Correctional Services, which manages the program, has agreed to hire two people who go through Clean Start once they are released from custody.
“We are proud to serve as a partner to Cook County,” said Jim Hinds, vice president for ARAMARK Correctional Services. “Our team has witnessed how onsite training programs like Clean Start and our own IN2WORK help support a detainee’s successful return to the community.”
With about 9,200 inmates, the Cook County Jail processes approximately 3.5 million pounds of laundry annually. When a two-year, $1.5-million contract with an outside vendor was set to expire earlier this year, plans were developed to start the OPL in an underutilized storage area in the jail’s basement.
ARAMARK Correctional Services District Manager Mike Anderson worked on the design and build-out of the laundry, consulting with colleagues at ARAMARK Uniform Services to identify the types of industrial washers and dryers needed.
Five 150-pound washers and five 170-pound dryers were purchased to handle loads of sheets, towels, pillowcases, blankets, uniforms and coats. The washing formula developed by ARAMARK and Ecolab is NPE- and phosphate-free.
Dart says he is already exploring the possibility of offering jail laundry services to outside companies.