Thomas J. Dart
School of Social Work
The Honorable Thomas J. Dart
Sheriff; Cook County, Illinois
Thomas J. Dart (JD ’87), sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, has lived a life dedicated to effecting change, protecting the unprotected, and fighting for social justice.
After serving the community as a prosecutor and state legislator, Dart decided to run for Cook County sheriff in 2006 on a promise of using this incredible platform to advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable and neglected communities among us. In the ensuing decade, he has fulfilled that promise by enacting meaningful social justice reforms and has rewritten the book on what a sheriff can accomplish.
In particular, Dart’s restorative justice vision has reduced the number of non-violent offenders detained at Cook County Jail—one of the largest jails in the nation—while spreading awareness nationally about the ongoing criminalization of mental illness.
Sheriff Dart firmly believes that a service provider is a far more productive setting than a jail for those with mental illness. In 2013, he launched the Office of Mental Health Policy and Advocacy, which operates a 24-hour mental health hotline for ex-inmates and families of current inmates and also screens all pre-bond detainees for mental illness.
In 2015, he worked to enact the Rocket Docket into law, which has resulted in the faster disposition of retail theft and criminal trespassing cases through the system. An amendment to the law, which went into effect the beginning of this year, expands the cases that fall under the Rocket Docket to include certain traffic offenses and minor drug charges.
Sheriff Dart also overhauled the county’s approach to foreclosure evictions, ensuring that evictees receive proper notice before being put out on the street and offering on-site social services geared towards families with school-age children, people who are elderly, and individuals suffering from mental illness. Sheriff Dart gained national prominence for placing a moratorium on evictions after banks admitted to robo-signing foreclosure documents.
TIME magazine named Dart one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world in 2009, thanks to his groundbreaking efforts.
He and his wife, Patricia, live on Chicago’s South Side and are the proud parents of five children.