Add the first African-American to lead the U.S. Department of Justice to the list of powerful people who think the Cook County cash bond system is unfair.
Public Defender Amy Campanelli on Tuesday formally unveiled a report by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that surveyed state and federal court rulings and decades of reports on the Cook County criminal courts.
The report, dated last month, showed a consistent trend in the data: The county jail is more than half-full of defendants who simply can’t afford to post bail, a situation that seems to defy constitutional protections.
Joined at a press conference at the Chicago Temple by County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Sheriff Tom Dart and Clerk Dorothy Brown, Campanelli called on the state Supreme Court to require that judges statewide start setting bond amounts that defendants can afford to pay. A mandate from the Supreme Court would mirror an order that Chief Judge Timothy Evans recently issued for Cook County judges, and would track with a state law reforming bond practices that was passed earlier this year.
“Judges must follow the law,” Campanelli said. “If you are going to set a bond requiring my client or any client to post cash, there must be evidence on the record that he can, in fact, post that amount.”
Since leaving office in 2015 and returning to private practice, Holder has advocated eliminating cash bonds nationwide, and his firm had previously drafted a report on bond policies in the state of Maryland. Dart has called for an end to cash bond, and State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle also have backed reforms to the system.
Campanelli estimated that as many as half the 8,000 offenders inside the Cook County Jail could be released prior to trial, but stopped short of calling for an end to pretrial detention. People who pose a potential threat to society should be jailed while awaiting trial, she said, but the danger they pose to public safety — not the ability to scrape together thousands of dollars to post bond — should determine who is locked up.
“I’m a citizen too . . . if people are a threat to public safety, looking at the safety risk, the criminal history looking at the charges, that person should be held no-bond,” Campanelli said. “Cash does not make us safer.”