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Preckwinkle wants more nonviolent defendants released from jail

Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and a bipartisan, biracial coalition of commissioners on Monday pushed for jailing fewer people charged with nonviolent crimes while they await trial.

Preckwinkle and her allies called for a public hearing next month to explore the issue, contending unnecessary incarceration wasted taxpayer money and needlessly kept in jail those who simply could not afford their bail.

In an unusual move, the commissioners cited a recently filed lawsuit that seeks to force the Circuit Court to release more defendants without requiring them to post a bond, claiming the current practices result in unconstitutional discrimination against poor, largely minority criminal defendants. The suit sued five Circuit Court judges and Sheriff Tom Dart.

"I usually say that jails in this country ... are at the intersection of race and poverty," Preckwinkle said.

Commissioners Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, D-Chicago, Richard Boykin, D-Oak Park, John Fritchey, D-Chicago, and Peter Silvestri, R-Elmwood Park, all joined Preckwinkle in calling for the public hearing.

Preckwinkle wants to give commissioners $500K each for projects

The population at the Cook County Jail has declined substantially since Preckwinkle first took office in late 2010, but her reference to the lawsuit could irritate some fellow public officials.

A spokeswoman for State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, who was defeated in this year's Democratic primary by Preckwinkle protege Kim Foxx, said the office has been part of the effort to reduce the jail population and "increase alternative programming for nonviolent offenders."

"We have also been working very close with the sheriff's office to identify nonviolent offenders in the jail population to help expedite these cases and subsequent release from custody," Sally Daly said.

A lengthy statement on behalf of Chief Judge Timothy Evans said judges are using a new risk assessment program to evaluate whether defendants should be released while awaiting trial. More people are being released on electronic monitoring without having to post bail, contributing to a significant drop in the jail population over the last few years, according to the statement released by Evans' spokesman, Pat Milhizer.

Preckwinkle: Tax on pop, other drinks will help avert criminal justice cuts

"For the first half of 2016, the overall pretrial-release rate of the lowest risk defendants in non-violent, non-weapons cases was 94 percent," the statement said.

The lawsuit, filed Oct. 14 by two jail detainees charged with theft who can't come up with the money to post bond while awaiting trial, alleges that judges "impose financial conditions of release without making an inquiry into and findings concerning an arrestee's ability to pay."

It seeks to prevent the jailing of defendants "who would be released but for their inability to afford a monetary sum set without any inquiry into and findings concerning their ability to pay."

hdardick@chicagotribune.com



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