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In-person bail hearings could ease jail crowding

Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times
by Frank Main

The elimination of video bail hearings at the courthouse at 26th and California is expected to create staffing problems for the Cook County sheriff but also could reduce jail crowding, his spokesman said Tuesday.

Since 1999, new arrestees have stood in a basement cellblock where a closed-circuit camera transmitted their images to a TV screen in front of a judge in the courtroom above.

But civil rights lawyers successfully argued that in-person hearings are more fair. So starting Monday, arrestees began appearing in court.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart supports the change, said his spokesman, Steve Patterson. But in January, the sheriff will shift seven deputies from the midnight shift at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center -- and a dozen more from the criminal courts -- to safeguard the court. Union rules bar the sheriff from making the transfers sooner, Patterson said.

The new system will provide judges with more information about the backgrounds of arrestees, which could persuade judges to put more of them, especially nonviolent younger ones, on electronic monitoring instead of keeping them in jail. That, in turn, could alleviate crowding, Patterson said.



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