Suffredin- Changing County Government  
 

Accountability
Forest Preserves
Public Safety
Cook County Budget
Forest Pres. Budget
Property Tax Appeal
Health & Hospitals
Land Bank Authority
Policy Resolutions
Unsung Heroine

 

   
 
   
   
 
   
     
  Office phone numbers:  
   
 
 

The Cook County Code of Ordinances are the current laws of Cook County.

   
 

Search current and proposed Cook County Legislation in Larry's exclusive legislative library.

   
  Last year more people used the County's forest preserves than visited Yellowstone National Park.
   
     
     
     



DOJ’s new stance on bail bonds won’t help poor inmates in Cook County Jail

Thursday, August 25, 2016
Chicago Reader
by Maya Dukmasova

DOJ’s new stance on bail bonds won’t help poor inmates in Cook County Jail

Posted Byon 08.25.16 at 03:27 PM

A detainee at Cook County Jail - JESSICA KOSCIELNIAK/SUN-TIMES
  • JESSICA KOSCIELNIAK/SUN-TIMES
  • A detainee at Cook County Jail

Criminal justice reform advocates celebrated this week as the U.S. Department of Justice first announced it would phase out contracts with private prisons, then said bail bonds that keep poor people in jail are unconstitutional.

However, don't expect the the DOJ's new position on bail bonds to bring relief to the thousands of poor inmates awaiting trial at Cook County Jail. Illinois law already prohibits fixed bail, and the poor are disproportionately jailed here anyway.

The DOJ's take on fixed bail bonds—a specific price to be paid to secure release from jail—came in the form of a friend-of-the-court brief written in support of a plaintiff in a civil rights suit against a Georgia town.

Bail set "without meaningful consideration of an individual's indigence and alternatives . . . violates the Fourteenth Amendment," the department wrote.

The lawsuit was filed by a mentally ill man who had been arrested for public drunkenness and jailed for six days. The man's complaint argued that he was held only because he was unable to pay the $160 in bail, and that he was not otherwise a flight risk or a danger to the community.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that already outlaws fixed bails, and thus won't be affected by the DOJ's directive. That doesn't mean the status quo is good for poor arrestees here.

Illinois state law dictates that bond court judges must weigh 30 different factors in their decision to set bail amounts—among them, the defendant's criminal history, ties to the community, previous failures to appear in court, mental health, and financial means.

But meaningful deliberation about condemning defendants to await trial in jail is often scarce.

"There's a public perception that [bond hearings] are detailed hearings, that they're well-founded decisions," says Sharlyn Grace, a criminal justice policy fellow at theChicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, a court watchdog group. "But the decision about whether they're going to be incarcerated for that time is happening in 37 seconds, 25 seconds."

The situation in Cook County Jail is thus similar to that of other jails, including Rikers Island in New York City and the LA County Jail: large numbers of inmates are held awaiting trial on low-level offenses, sometimes for years, simply because they can't afford their bonds.

As of Wednesday there were 8,100 people awaiting trial in Cook County Jail. Of those, about 20 percent need less than $5,000 to get out, according to Cara Smith, chief policy officer for the Cook County sheriff's office and former director of the jail. Of those, around 170 people need less than $1,000 to be released.

"We unquestionably have people in the jail who are here solely because they are poor," says Smith. On rare occasions, Smith says she has seen inmates with bonds as low as $150 who nevertheless couldn't afford to leave. "When you're talking about very low level offenders who are charged with crimes of survival, they don't have $5, much less $1,000," she says. "You're essentially putting them on a no bond status—they're going to be in custody throughout the duration of their case."

And since "'justice moves at a glacial pace here in Cook County," as Smith puts it, sometimes people end up staying in jail longer than the prison sentence could have been for their alleged crime. The Appleseed Fund's Grace adds that people who are jailed tend to get harsher sentences because they agree to less favorable plea deals just to get out of jail in the short term.

In addition, county records and interviews with experts suggest that bail amounts have skyrocketed over the decades. Though there is no floor or ceiling to bond amounts in the county, one class of common bonds, D-bonds, rarely dip below $10,000 (or $1,000 needed to leave jail). In the 80s and 90s, D-bonds were sometimes in the low hundreds of dollars.

"People who are impacted by these high bonds are no wealthier today than they were 20 years ago," says Smith, adding that that poor African-Americans are disproportionately impacted.

The chief judge's office said that it is up to the discretion of each judge to assign the amount of the bond, but didn't comment further.

While the DOJ's position on fixed bail is encouraging to legal observers, Cook County stakeholders say that reforms here will require a much more meticulous approach.

"We have a much more nefarious problem here," says Smith. "While we have the same effect on the poor, it's trickier to get at because the statute [governing bond-setting] is so expansive."

According to Smith, the sheriff's office is drafting legislative proposals to address the problem of poor, low-level offenders awaiting trial in jails due to their inability pay bonds.

"We are very hopeful that this Department of Justice position and filing will result in a renewed focus on our bail statute and hopefully some legislative activity around changing it," Smith says.

And the Appleseed fund is now leading a local coalition proposing to get rid of money bail altogether.

"There isn't real evidence that having someone pay a money bond improves their rate of [court] appearance," says Grace. "It would be much cheaper in Cook County to have text message reminders than keeping people incarcerated."

"The Department of Justice position is in line with our thinking," Frank Shuftan, a spokesperson for Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle, says in a written statement. "We will continue our work on this issue until only people who are a danger to the community or a flight risk remain in the jail prior to trial, and the crushing financial burden is lifted from Cook County taxpayers."

The county is in the process of implementing a new system for evaluating a defendant's risk, which the chief judge's office says will help judges make more calculated bail decisions.

Whether and how quickly that makes a difference for the hundreds of poor inmates awaiting trial behind bars remains to be seen.



Recent Headlines

Beekeeping Behind Bars: Inmates Raise Bees at Cook County Jail
Friday, June 14, 2019
WTTW News

Court rules county retirees entitled to health care no matter who last employer was
Thursday, June 13, 2019
Chicago Sun-Times

Prevent Illinois from being the next ground zero for measles
Thursday, June 13, 2019
Crain's Chicago Business

At Cook County Jail, Inmates Relax Their Minds, Bodies With Yoga
Thursday, June 06, 2019
Prison Mindfulness Institute

Illinois Dept. of Revenue Releases Final 2018 Cook County Equalization Factor
Thursday, June 06, 2019
JD Supra

Skokie drops recent proposal to opt out of Cook County minimum wage ordinance
Wednesday, June 05, 2019
Chicago Tribune

JAMA examines rising drug costs • CVS' ambitious transformation • Cook County extends Medicaid contract
Wednesday, June 05, 2019
Crain's Chicago Business

DCFS says nonprofit misused taxpayer dollars, demands repayment of $100K
Wednesday, June 05, 2019
Chicago Tribune

Cook County judge, ripped for ‘insensitive’ racial comments, dumped from bench
Wednesday, June 05, 2019
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County Offers Low Cost Rabies And Microchipping Clinic
Wednesday, June 05, 2019
Patch

Masturbating Cook County Jail inmates could cost taxpayers $2 million-plus in legal fees
Tuesday, June 04, 2019

New training and protocols needed at Cook County, task force says after sexual harassment scandal
Friday, May 31, 2019
Chicago Tribune

Cook County assessor's tax reform bill skids in Springfield
Friday, May 31, 2019
Crain's Chicago Business

Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi's property tax reforms stall out in Springfield
Friday, May 31, 2019
Chicago Tribune

The North Shore Mosquito Abatement District has found the first mosquitoes to test positive for West Nile virus in the District this year.
Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Special to suffredin.org

Cook County to Address Perinatal Health Disparities with $4.8M Grant
Friday, May 24, 2019
WTTW News

Audit Recommends Ways To Overhaul Cook County Property Tax System
Thursday, May 23, 2019
WBEZ News

Cock-a-doodle-deferred? After ‘urban farmers’ cry foul, county tables rooster ban
Thursday, May 23, 2019
Chicago Sun-Times

From green screen computers to staff shortages, a new audit says Cook County's property tax system needs more resources
Thursday, May 23, 2019
Chicago Tribune

Measles Exposure Reported in Chicago
Monday, May 20, 2019
WTTW News

all news items

Paid for by Larry Suffredin and not at taxpayer expense. A Haymarket Production.
^ TOP