Bail reform has been on the cards in Chicago for some time because the poverty of inmates is keeping them behind bars. As many as 300 people are jailed every day in Cook County because they cannot afford to post bail of $1,000.
However, the political momentum for reform appears to be gathering pace. Recently, the Chicago Tribune reported prosecutors in Cook County will no longer oppose the release of detainees held for certain nonviolent offenses because they can’t afford bonds.
The State's Attorney Kim Foxx announced the change that was promptly praised by an aide to Sheriff Tom Dar as consistent with the efforts to cut the county jail's population.
The move is welcome because it marks the first time a state’s attorney has taken a strong stand on the issue of bail, according to Cara Smith, the sheriff's policy chief.
Initially, the impact of the decision will affect just a handful of inmates – probably just a few dozen of more than 7,400. In the longer term Foxx believes the move will lead to a fairer criminal justice system.
The change is also likely to mean savings for taxpayers. A year’s stay in a jail costs more than $60,000 per inmate according to the Tribune report. The cost is even higher when mental health problems are present.
The change means people charged with some minor offenses will be released rather than being forced to pay bail. Foxx said in a statement:
"Routinely detaining people accused of low-level offenses who have not yet been convicted of anything, simply because they are poor is not only unjust — it undermines the public's confidence in the fairness of the system.”
Foxx believes there is a consensus that something is wrong when some inmates facing violent charges can bond out if they have cash while many charged with nonviolent offenses remain in jail because they cannot stump up few hundred dollars.
Chicago’s cash-bail system has been criticized at a national level. It is accused of being discriminatory because it adversely affects people in poverty.
The system was meant to ensure that defendants don't flee or cause harm to other people before trial. However, critics say judges often lack knowledge of key case details when they set a cash sum.
Cash bail systems are under fire across the nation. An article in The Atlantic described how a young man recently died in a New Hampshire jail after he was unable to post $100 bail. He was booked for possession of marijuana.
The Cook County Sheriff’s Office says 250 to 300 people are jailed every day on average because they are unable to post $1,000 cash or less.
If you have been charged with a criminal defense, you should hire a Cook County criminal defense lawyer. Find out more about Abdallah Law here or call (312) 229-0008.