Non-violent offenders stuck behind bars at Cook County Jail because they can't afford to pay their bail will get a second chance to petition for their release. Under the latest developments in Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle’s "Motion to Reconsider" initiative, an increase in staff will focus on alternatives to incarceration for people who can't meet low bond amounts.
Following a Justice Advisory Council study, Preckwinkle proposed the initiative on the bond system and pretrial services. The report shined a long-awaited spotlight on the quagmire that bond payments can be for low-income people. More than 5,000 Chicagoans are waiting for hearings in Cook County Jail because they can't afford to post bond, the report found.
“Lowering the jail population and reducing the exorbitant costs associated with detention have been one of my top priorities, and it will remain a focus until we see a significant and sustainable decrease in the population,” Preckwinkle said in a press release this week. “The cost to taxpayers is too high, and the negative consequences for non-violent offenders who cannot afford bail are too great for us to grow complacent about this critical issue.”
The county will hire two new public defenders to work with detainees who are entering the criminal justice system. In addition, four employees from the Safer Foundation will take on a six-month review of people already stuck in jail because they can't afford bail. These detainees would have the chance to be released "on their own recognizance" or consider other options besides staying behind bars.
The number of people going through Cook County Jail, as one of the largest jails in the country, is significant.
The average number of daily bond hearings at the Central Bond Court during the first six months of 2012 was 140. The majority of people in the jail population -- 70 percent -- aren't charged with a violent crime.
Tracy Velazquez, with the Justice Policy Institute, told The Chicago Reporter that the “Motion to Reconsider” was a move in the right direction. JPI’s study of the prison population in Baltimore found that even paying $500 as a bond was difficult for some.
"Our work in Baltimore showed that almost one in ten people were being held in jail on bail of $5,000 or less. That means not only that they weren’t able to raise $5,000 to pay their own full bail, but they didn’t have the resources for a bail bond," wrote Velazquez. "Bail bonds are often about 10 percent. So we’re talking about people who don’t have friends or family who can come up with $500."
Photo credit: :Dar