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Counterpoint: Real issue is disproportionate arrests of minorities, low-income people

Sunday, March 29, 2015
Chicago Sun-Times

The injustice that results in the disproportionate confinement of minority and low-income people is an issue about which I am very passionate and have raised serious concerns about for many, many years. I would never do anything to exacerbate this crisis, and I am for any measure that would stem the mass incarceration of minorities and the poor.

The fact is, state law mandates that the clerk of Circuit Court collect 10 percent of bail amounts, and then remits 10 percent of the collected amount to the county’s general revenue fund, where it is used to cover bail bond costs. “Bail bond costs” include the services of the judiciary, sheriff, state’s attorney, public defender and court clerk, from processing the defendant into the County Jail, transporting him or her to bail bond court, holding the bail bond hearing in court, transporting the defendant back to jail, and processing him or her out of jail; as well as the pre-trial services staff that help judges make decisions for setting bail. I am confident that Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey and the County Board will find a way to cover these bail bond costs, as he said he would; thereby, this new legislation should not affect the county’s budget.

The real issue is the fact that minorities and low-income individuals are arrested and jailed at disproportionate rates in the first place. For instance, although African-Americans are only 25 percent of the population of Cook County, they comprise nearly 73 percent of arrestees in the county, and 67 percent of the daily population of the Cook County Jail.

Real change has to begin with training law enforcement officers to not discriminate in their arrest methods, which is a measure that is being considered by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Board, of which I am a member. Additionally, the Cook County chief judge is leading an effort, on which I and other criminal justice stakeholders are collaborating, to increase the number of defendants who are released on their own recognizance or to electronic home monitoring, by using a new risk of re-offending assessment tool that would alleviate the need for low-risk offenders to post bail bonds at all.

I am for establishing criminal justice system measures that will ensure the administration of equal justice for all citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity or economic status.

Dorothy Brown is the clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County

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