Cook County Bonds and Bail

Get out of jail free? That may soon be the norm if you are not a danger to the community. Cook County Chief Judge, Timothy Evans, is proposing an overhaul of bond court which would dramatically change the way bail bond is determined for people charged with crime. Currently, people who are arrested for a felony are brought before a judge for a bail hearing. At the hearing, the judge learns from the prosecutor about the facts of the case and aggravating factors that would convince the judge to keep the person locked up unless he posts a substantial amount of money (bond) to ensure his return to court. Next, the arrestee presents evidence to the judge as to why the bond amount should be low. For some, the judge issues a recognizance bond, also known as an "I bond", for people charged with less serious offenses and lacking a criminal background.

Unfortunately, even if the bond set is very low, there are many people who remain locked up simply because they are poor and unable to post the bond. Many inmates at the already overcrowded Cook County jail are locked up awaiting trial for low-level offenses simply because they cannot post a small amount of cash, even though they pose no danger of violence to the community.

Under the proposal by Evans, judges would be instructed to consider the financial means of the arrestee when setting bond. However, if the judge is convinced that the person remains a danger to the community, that person would then be held without bail until trial.

Many questions still remain about how the proposal will be put into effect. Also, there are other practical considerations that judges will have to consider. For example, what should be done with a non-violent person who cannot afford bail but who has a history of failing to appear for court for non-violent offenses, such as property crimes?

The proposal is without question a victory for advocates for the poor and for racial minorities in Chicago who are disproportionately represented among the population in Cook County jail. To read more about the proposal, click here:

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