Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx on Monday announced that her office will urge judges to let low-risk defendants go free while they are awaiting trial.
Foxx, who campaigned on a platform of reforming the county’s criminal justice system that was stacked against the poor, said in a statement that prosecutors will weigh in at bond hearings to call for “I-bond” for non-violent defendants who are unlikely to commit crimes while free, or fail to return to court.
When a judge sets a I-bond, a defendant is released and has to pay the dollar amount only if they miss their court dates.
“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 wrote in a statement.
Even small amounts of cash needed to pay a “D-bond,” short for deposit bond, can leave poor defendants locked up for weeks or months, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has said, pointing to the group of 200 or so defendants locked up at the county jail because they can’t post $1,000 or less to secure release.
The announcement comes after Gov. Bruce Rauner this weekend signed into law legislation, backed by Foxx, intended to steer judges to set less-restrictive forms of bond and allow for quick review of bond decisions.
And if the first official day of the new policy is any indication, it appeared that the new policy may not impact that many defendants.
Several people on the docket in Cook County Central Bond Court on Monday were granted I-bonds or assigned to wear electronic monitor bracelets while on house arrest, but none of those recent arrestees apparently had criminal records clean enough or charges light enough for the assistant state’s attorneys to vouch for them.
A study by Chicago Appleseed, a criminal justice advocacy group, found that 95 percent of the people in custody at the Cook County Jail are awaiting trial and that 60 percent are there because they are unable to pay their bond. Monday, there were 7,527 people locked up in the jail, and another 2,233 facing charges but free on electronic monitoring.
Dart, who has backed legislation that would do away with cash bond entirely, found wide disparities in the bond amounts given to defendants for similar crimes, even in cases where bond rulings had been made by the same judge.