League of Women Voters proposes equal-justice bail reforms

Submitted by Cook County LWV

On any given day more than 8,000 people are confined in the Cook County Jail.  Most of these folks (90 percent) haven’t been convicted of anything: they’re simply awaiting their day in court. This is costly to the county, disruptive to the accused and often unnecessary for public safety.

Based on 18 months of study, interviews and multiple bond court visits, the League of Women Voters of Cook County today proposed a set of reforms to change the way the county’s citizens are treated between the time of their arrest and the date of their trial. Chief among the proposals is one to discontinue the practice of requiring those charged to post cash bail. Cash bail is inherently unequal. Wealthier people post bail and return to their community, while people without the means to post bail end up in jail.

“If defendants are judged not to be a threat to any person or the community and are found likely to return to court, they should be released . . . . If defendants are a risk to the community or a flight risk, they should be kept in jail,” the report states, noting that other cities have dramatically reduced the use of cash bail without significant increases in defendants’ absconding or committing additional crimes. Abolishing bail would take an act of the state legislature, but the LWV’s report urges judges to put a stop to it now.

Other proposals in the report include:

Adding more bond court locations and assigning more judges to hear bond court cases. Overcrowding in Central Bond Court results in unequal justice: in Chicago judges have only 2 minutes to determine whether to send a defendant to jail, while in the suburbs those hearings may last 15 minutes per arrestee.

Giving bond court judges better information about the many alternatives to jailing defendants before trial. There are behavioral health programs run by the state’s attorney’s office and the sheriff, as well as special courts designed to address the problems of veterans accused of crime or of defendants in need of drug treatment. However, not every judge is aware of all the options, resulting in unequal opportunities for those accused.

Changing procedures for drug arrests.  Currently it takes up to three weeks for the state crime lab to analyze suspicious substances. Many arrested for drug offenses are kept in jail until the drug chemistry reports come back. The LWV recommends releasing defendants pending test results or testing drugs immediately in the field at the time of arrest.

To read the full report,
visit www.lwvcookcounty.org/

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