As bail reform movement spreads, organized opposition mounts

As Cook County joins other jurisdictions around the country in pushing to reform bail, organized opposition is growing from the bail bond industry and prosecutors.

The latest example: A commentary written by a Los Angeles prosecutor, published in The Crime Report, a fellow member of the Institute for Nonprofit News. At issue is the growing use of an assessment tool, developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, that attempts to provide judges an objective measure of the risk that a suspect will either flee or pose a danger to the community if released.

The tool was developed to help accomplish the release of detainees awaiting trial who remain locked up, not convicted of anything, but pose no danger. Cook County Jail in recent years included hundreds of suspects each night held in custody on non-violent charges only because they could not post bail. Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans phased the assessment tool into bond court over the past two years.

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The “use of this tool has led to the wholesale release of violent criminals—and tragedy,” wrote Eric W. Siddall, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, citing two incidents in New Jersey and San Francisco in which defendants were released before trial and went on to commit violent crimes.

Siddall’s commentary comes as the bail bond industry has supported lawsuits challenging bail reform in New Jersey.

Injustice Watch reported last year that the setting of bond remained arbitrary and varied greatly from courtroom to courtroom. In October, the county’s judges were sued in a class action suit that contends the system of deciding who is detained based on their ability to pay for freedom is unconstitutional.

Supporters of bail reform have contended judges too often disregard the assessment tool and impose high bail out of fear of the public outcry if someone commits a violent crime after being released.

Last month Judge Evans issued a new order, to take effect next month, that Cook County judges consider a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail in cases involving non-violent crimes.