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Cook County should get into bail-bond business: commissioner

Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Chicago Sun-Times
by Brian Sylodysko

A Cook County commissioner wants to alleviate crowding at the Cook County jail by lending bail money to some nonviolent offenders charged with minor crimes. If adopted, the “revolving bail-bond fund” would require tax dollars to get up and running. But the program should pay for itself by reducing the number of prisoners housed at the jail at an estimated cost of $143 per day per inmate, said Commissioner Larry Suffredin, a Democrat who represents parts of northern Cook County.  “This is not money we’re giving them for any benefit other than getting them out of jail,” Suffredin said. “When your jail is pushing 10,000 [people] you need a safety valve.” As it is, inmates who post bond to secure their release eventually get that money back — minus some fees — once they are through with the court process. Often that returned money is used to pay lawyers, court fees or a third-party who put up the cash in the first place, Suffredin said. But under his proposal, the county government would act as a bail bondsman, loaning and later collecting the bond money from those who participate in the program. There are several stipulations about who could get a bail bond loan under the proposal, which was first heard by the County Board on Wednesday. For example, only nonviolent offenders who do not pose a flight risk could be eligible. And only inmates who were given small bail amounts would be allowed to participate. Also, loans could not be issued to those facing additional charges that may land them right back in jail. Another requirement would mandate that those who are released have health insurance or sign up for subsidized coverage offered through the county, according to the resolution. The propsal has the support of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. “We have people sitting [in jail] simply because they lack the ability to post even a low level of bond, without regard to their risk to public safety,” said Cara Smith, Dart’s chief of policy communications. “You shouldn’t be in prison simply because you are poor and lack the resources.” Suffredin said the county budget director will study the feasibility of the proposal and will make recommendations to the board in March. Board President Toni Preckwinkle is open to exploring the idea, said spokeswoman Kristen Mack. “President Preckwinkle is open to any and all ideas when it comes to reforming the criminal justice system,” Mack said. “This is a complex issue and we want to make sure it is thoroughly reviewed.”

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