CHICAGO (Reuters) - Employees at one of the largest U.S. jails would rather watch the big game than the big house, raising concerns with a Chicago-area sheriff that an annual problem with Super Bowl fever could force a lockdown on Sunday.
As the New England Patriots prepare to play the Atlanta Falcons in the National Football League's championship game in Houston, officials in the Cook County Sheriff's Office said they are telephoning guards who in years past have called in sick on Super Bowl Sunday. The Super Bowl is the most heavily watched show on television every year.
"For the safety of our staff and the inmates, it’s important that we have adequate staffing levels at the jail," Samuel Randall, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, which runs the jail, said by email.
"Though there’s only so much the sheriff’s office can do, we’ve taken steps to minimize call-ins by contacting more than 300 correctional officers who have missed two or more Super Bowl Sundays," he added.
Hundreds of employees at Chicago's Cook County Jail called in sick for last year's Super Bowl Sunday, forcing a facility that houses some 7,400 inmates to be locked down due to lack of staff, said Cara Smith, the chief policy officer for the Cook County Sheriff. More than 100 were no-shows during the day shift, and another 128 skipped the afternoon shift, accounting for around 25 percent of staff.
When staffing levels fall too low, all unnecessary movement of inmates is restricted, she said.
"Occasionally a high-profile boxing match will give us a run for our money, but the Super Bowl has been a consistent day when we see these issues," Smith said.
(This version of the story has been refiled to correct job title in paragraph five)
(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Bill Rigby)