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Boost mental health, housing assistance to keep released jail detainees from re-offending, Evans says

Friday, July 23, 2021
The Daily Line
by Alex Nitkin

herapists could be more a “far superior tool” than ankle bracelets at preventing people from committing new crimes while under pre-trial home confinement, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans told county commissioners this week.

“We use electronic monitoring because the state statutes permit that, but I would like to see more money available for cognitive behavioral therapy,” Evans said during a preliminary budget hearing focused on his $267 million office on Wednesday. “The electronic monitoring system can show us where somebody is when they are released, but it doesn’t tell them to avoid the consequences that got them in trouble in the first place.”

Evans is leaning into advocacy for expanded mental health programming, “restorative justice” courts and conflict mediation programming as his answer to an onslaught of criticism — most pointedly from the Chicago Police Department — that lax judges under his direction bear some responsibility for the more than 2,000 shootings recorded in Chicago so far this year.



Comm. Frank Aguilar (D-16) picked up that line of attack during Wednesday’s hearing, saying “the public is crying out” for judges to take a harder line against repeat shooters. He pointed to the man accused of a gruesome double murder in Humboldt Park last month after having racked up a long list of violent crimes.

“Individuals who are released on bail are committing these crimes time and time again,” Aguilar said. “Police are out there catching these criminals, but when you have a long list of…extremely violent felony charges and they’re still out there, it’s a ticking time bomb.”

Echoing similar arguments by State’s Attorney Kim Foxx during a similar hearing one day earlier, Evans responded by “the data speaks for itself” on detainees who are released on bail — about 1 percent of whom went on to commit new violent crimes between 2017 and 2020, he said.



“Unless you have those things, the law requires they be released pre-trial…no matter what a police officer says, they’re not the judge and jury,” Evans said. “They are only the accuser.”

“We’re not saying it is impossible for somebody who is released on bail to commit a crime while they’re released pre-trial,” Evans added. “What we’re saying is…the law says we have to presume them to be innocent.”

He added that judges use a nine-part “risk assessment” to determine in each case whether each defendant should be denied bail.

“People can only be held [in jail] pre-trial when…the proof is evident they have committed a crime, or if we can show that they are a clear and present threat to someone in the public,” Evans said. “Unless you have those things, the law requires they be released pre-trial.”

Evans then pivoted to a list of resources he believes would prevent defendants from re-offending, saying he hopes the state and county can harness American Rescue Plan dollars on job retraining, rehousing programs and witness protection so that residents of high-crime neighborhoods can climb out of cycles of violence.

“These communities are full of residents who have been traumatized, so we need trauma-informed care to help the residents,” Evans said. “But more than anything else, we need a legal pathway for residents in those communities to address their economic needs so there would be upward mobility for the whole community.”

He pointed to two Restorative Justice Community Courts his office opened last year in Avondale and Englewood, joining a similar court already operating in North Lawndale. He said some young people “do well” and “graduate” from the alternative court program only to become vulnerable to gang retaliation again when they’re released because the county does not follow through with supportive housing or job placement.

“If I had my druthers, my budget would increase substantially,” Evans said. County budget officials have authorized him for an approximately 4 percent budget hike, but Evans said the expansion “should be 10 percent” based on needs he could identify. His office was forced to cut more than 250 vacant positions last year, suffering the biggest blow of any county agency besides Sheriff Tom Dart’s office.

A bigger budget boost would allow Evans to grow his restorative justice court program, as well as “problem-solving courts” and “veterans’ courts” — plus more witness protection programming and behavioral therapy for defendants, he said.

“A probation officer can’t do all that alone,” Evans said.

Separately on Wednesday, Evans laid out the framework for a mass expansion of jury trials set to get underway next week. The opening of the floodgates is sure to put unprecedented strain on county attorneys, Foxx and Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell both told commissioners this week.

Related: Mitchell to ask for more public defenders after pandemic ‘slowed down the process of justice’

The county court system is only able to process about eight jury trials per week under existing social distancing rules, Evans said. But a general order from Evans set to go into effect on Friday will expand the court’s capacity to 86 courtrooms, including 76 courtrooms designed for jury trials.

But jury trials are already underway, Evans said. Cook County courts have seated 44 juries since the trials resumed on March 22, including 33 juries for criminal trials.


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