Fewer suspects held pretrial under new bond rules, chief judge says

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The percentage of suspects released after arrest without having to post money has nearly doubled in the first month since new Cook County bond rules took effect, Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans said on Friday.

Appearing before the Cook County Board of Commissioners finance committee, Evans said that 49 percent of suspects were freed without posting money in the first month after the order he issued in July took effect; a year ago, he said, the number was 25 percent.

Evans also told the commissioners that bonds requiring defendants to post money to secure release have plummeted from 46 percent of defendants being required to do so last year to only 22 percent of defendants under the new order. He said that number of bonds requiring home confinement have also decreased from last year.

“The new system is doing just what I had promised you it would do,” Evans said.

Evans ordered reforms designed to ensure that suspects are not held pretrial simply because they are poor. The system of bail has attracted intense attention in recent years for causing defendants charged with nonviolent crimes to be detained for days, weeks or months, unable to post bail, while some defendants charged with violent crimes could post bail no matter how high it was set.

The Cook County Board President, Toni Preckwinkle; the Sheriff, Tom Dart; the State’s Attorney, Kimberly M. Foxx; and the Public Defender, Amy Campanelli all had been pushing for reform. Injustice Watch last year reported that its study of 1,398 cases showed wide disparities in how bail was set from judge to judge and from courtroom to courtroom.

Last October a lawsuit was filed on behalf of detained prisoners awaiting trial, contending the county judges were violating the constitution by keeping them detained because of their poverty.

That case is still pending, and the judges have sought to have the case dismissed based on the new order enacted by Evans. The attorneys for the detainees have contended that the new rules do not prevent constitutional violations from continuing.

Injustice Watch reported this week that its observation of 453 cases since the new rules went into effect showed that variances from judge to judge are continuing.

At the hearing Friday, Evans also said that through tracking cases from the first two weeks of the new order, 97 percent of defendants who were released returned to court, and 98 percent of defendants released did not commit new crimes. The jail population has declined by 844 inmates in the time period since the new order was enacted, he said.

While Evans said that the new order is working well so far, he warned that even in the best circumstances with judges following the rules, there will be defendants who reoffend. “The elected community must stand with that judge as long as that judge has done what the judge was supposed to do,” Evans said.