Sheriff Tom Dart wants ability to seek lower bails for poor

SHARE Sheriff Tom Dart wants ability to seek lower bails for poor

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart plans to push for legislation allowing his office to seek lower bails for financially strapped detainees.

State Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, says he’ll work to amend Illinois law to add the sheriff’s office to the list of parties that can seek a reduction in bail — which already includes prosecutors and defense attorneys.

“The sheriff knows about the inmates behind bars,” Ford said. “I think he deserves the right to go before the court and ask for bond reductions on their behalf. The sheriff would not put his reputation on the line if he felt the person should not be on the street.”

Ford called the current bail system unfair because those with access to money can post the necessary bond to go free while awaiting trial but indigent people can’t.

He said he thinks the courts should support the legislation because “it still leaves it up to the discretion of the judges.”

Cara Smith, the sheriff’s policy chief, said 1,024 “turnarounds” were held in the jail last year  — people who’d spent so much time in custody that, once they were sentenced to state prison, they already had served every day of their prison sentence. In fact, on average, they each served  2½ months of extra time, according to Smith. Most of them had been jailed for nonviolent crimes.

Smith said the goal is to find a way to let nonviolent offenders out of the jail while keeping suspects in violent crimes behind bars.

Currently, 271 people in the jail need $1,000 or less to get out of the jail but don’t have it, she said.

That includes a dozen people who need just $200, two who need $150, one who needs $120 and four who don’t have the $100 they need to post the required 10 percent bond of their $1,000 bail, Smith said.

She said she doesn’t know of any other states that allow sheriffs to seek bail reductions.

Pat Milhizer, a spokesman for Chief Cook County Judge Timothy Evans, said “the court is open to reviewing any new information presented in support of a change to a defendant’s bail status. At this time, any comment on the impact of the proposed legislation would be too speculative.”

Since mid-2015, Cook County judges have been getting recommendations on bails from a new assessment system. Earlier this year, the sheriff’s office conducted a study that showed judges weren’t uniformly following the recommendations. But Milhizer said the system appeared to be identifying more non-violent offenders who qualified for release pending trial.

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