New plan allows release of low-level suspects to free up jail space
BY LISA DONOVAN Cook County Reporteremail@example.com July 12, 2012 10:02AM
Updated: August 14, 2012 6:23AM
At a time when the Cook County Jail is filling up, the push is on to release suspects awaiting trial in low-level nonviolent offenses.
So a plan is under way to quickly review cases where jailed suspects have a low cash bond, such as $2,000, but can’t afford to post the required 10 percent or $200 to walk out the door, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke said at a news conference Thursday.
“[T]he judge has already made the determination — a low-risk defendant has had a low bond set and/or [is placed on electronic monitoring] consequently that defendant should be out,” Burke told reporters.
Most of the 9,400 defendants behind bars at the county’s Southwest Side jail are awaiting trial on a variety of felony cases, and bond is set according to the severity of the offense and to ensure that defendants see their case through the criminal justice system, according to a six-month bond court study that Preckwinkle’s office also released Thursday.
Ten percent of the suspects currently jailed, or roughly 900, have been handed low bonds, recognizance bonds or ordered to be put on home electronic monitoring — a signal from the judge the suspects may be eligible to leave and await trial on the outside, Preckwinkle and Burke said. But those defendants remain behind bars because they cannot find the money to bail out or are homeless and cannot be put on home electronic monitoring as the judge ordered.
Under a new system, old cases will be reviewed by the sheriff and the public defender’s offices to determine whether they should ask a judge to review the case to determine whether they are eligible for lower bond or placement in a secure homeless shelter on home electronic monitoring.
Newly arrested suspects who do not make bail 24 to 48 hours after a judge sets bond would be subject to a similar review.
The larger goal of the new system — set to start in about two weeks — is ensuring qualified defendants make it out the first time they appear in bond court, Burke and Preckwinkle explained.
The sluggish paper trail will give way to a more efficient computerized system allowing court staff to look at the suspect’s current case, criminal history and conduct an assessment of the suspect’s employment, schooling, home life and even drug addictions before he or she stands before a judge. The idea is to provide a more detailed picture for the judge to consider before setting bond.
“We’ve got to provide the judges with sufficient information so they can make an appropriate decision,” Preckwinkle said.
Year-over-year statistics show that the jail housed 8,800 prisoners in May 2011, while it currently has about 9,400. The official capacity is 9,361.