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Who's right about recidivism? Each pol has his or her own data.
Has the state installed a revolving door of sorts at the county jail? It depends on who you ask.

Friday, August 07, 2020
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

The testimony from State's Attorney Kim Foxx was distinctly eyebrow-raising.

Appearing before the Cook County Board Finance Committee recently, Foxx said she wanted to dispel the notion that her support of electronic monitoring and other forms of noncash bail has fueled Chicago's summer of street violence. In fact, she said, of 1,822 people arrested and prosecuted for gun offenses in the first half of the year, just 26 have been rearrested and recharged with gun offenses since then, similar to the levels in 2018 and 2019. The perception that she's installed a revolving door of sorts at the county jail is "a simplistic narrative"—and it's wrong, she declared.

But is Foxx right in her facts? It depends who you believe and whose set of data is more accurate. As I concluded in a column a couple of weeks ago about the electronic monitoring system, it's almost impossible to tell because each of the players—judges and police, prosecutors and academics—keeps a different scorecard. And they each show different things.

Let me start with what Foxx came up with.

A couple of years ago, she shrewdly hired a crack researcher who'd worked for the Obama campaign, Matt Saniie, and set him to work. Saniie has access to all sorts of inside court and office records, and derived the figures Foxx disclosed, based on a study of arrests referred to the office for prosecution. Saniie said he couldn't release his actual files because of confidentiality concerns.

In her testimony, Foxx was careful to note that, because police have such a low clearance rate on many violent crimes, it's impossible to know the true recidivism rate by those out on bail. Beyond that, some arrests never turn into prosecutions, because they fail to pass muster with Foxx's felony review team. But her overall message was clear: Letting people out doesn't mean they immediately return to crime in large numbers.

Now, Saniie's findings were eerily similar to those in a recent story in the New York Times, which reported that despite fears about the onset of no-cash bail there, just seven of 1,500 inmates released from jail this spring have since been rearrested on another weapons charge. And his findings are similar to claims made last year by Foxx's political patron, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who said the true rearrest record was only around 1 percent.

But Preckwinkle's claim was promptly disputed at the time by a WGN story, which cited police data that found a 12 percent rearrest rate for alleged gun felons out on bond. Unfortunately, Chicago police say they are no longer able to compile such data because of changes at the county. And, frankly, they seem to be trying to calm what has been some pretty sharp jostling over crime statistics between county and city officials.


So, I turned to another source: Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. According to his office, of 8,232 people released from the jail on gun charges in the first half of the year—including those out on bond or probation or because they completed their sentence, but excluding those on electronic monitors—a whopping 1,927, or 23 percent, since have been rearrested on a gun-related charge, including violating probation.

Also with his own, different data is former Judge Pat O'Brien, the GOP nominee for state's attorney this fall. According to him, trackers for the campaign have been observing bond court cases and just between July 27 and July 31 found eight people who were on bond for gun charges and rearrested on new gun charges. O'Brien notably disclosed the names of the eight. "Everything we've seen suggests (Foxx's) statement is not accurate," he says.

One other source who would have an idea is Tim Evans, chief judge of Cook County Circuit Court. Says his spokeswoman: "Because the chief judge's office hasn't seen the report the state's attorney referenced, we can't comment."

Sigh. I'll keep digging, but reporting this story sure makes we want to stop by Burger King and order a couple of Whoppers.

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