Defendants released on bond are not driving Chicago’s high rate of weekend violence

More and more, judges are deeming defendants a danger and denying them pretrial release via a no-bail order. This strengthens public safety.

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The Cook County Jail on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Sun-Times Media

As the city continues to face violent weekends, blame is being placed on the pretrial justice practices in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

The criticism is misleading because pretrial defendants released on bond are not driving the weekend crime statistics. In fact, 99.8 percent of felony defendants released on bail do not receive charges of new gun-related violent crime while their cases are pending.

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Opinion

From October 2017 through March 2019, 37,233 felony defendants came through bond court, and 30,466 were released to the community as they awaited trial. Of those 30,466 released defendants, 70 (0.2%), were charged with committing a new violent offense that involved a gun. While nobody is downplaying allegations of violence, this is an average of less than four cases per month.

I stand with our judges who are following the law, respecting the rights of the accused and protecting the public as they increasingly hold more high-risk defendants in jail to await trial.

When we began bail reform five years ago, I was well aware that there would be concern any time a defendant released on bail was charged with a new crime — particularly a violent offense. Today, we know that this is extremely rare, especially as it relates to gun violence.

We must also remember that bail is not intended to be punishment. Pretrial defendants retain the presumption of innocence, and statutory penalties are triggered only when there is a finding of guilt. The test for a judge in bond court is whether the defendant is likely to attend future court dates and whether the defendant presents a clear threat to public safety.

More and more, judges are deeming defendants a danger and denying them pretrial release via a no-bail order. This strengthens public safety.

Since my bail order took effect on Sept. 18, 2017, the number of no-bail orders has sharply increased. There were 267 no-bail orders entered in the 15 months prior to the order, and 2,192 no-bail orders issued in the 15 months after, an increase of over 800%.

Defendants are analyzed by a risk-assessment tool that uses their criminal history to predict the likelihood that they will appear in court as required and avoid criminal activity while the case is pending. The tool does not automatically consider a gun-possession offense that involves no victim as a violent offense, as that would conflict with the federal and state Uniform Crime Reporting programs. The UCRs consider violent offenses to be murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

This tool — the Public Safety Assessment developed by Arnold Ventures — is also being used statewide in Arizona, Kentucky and New Jersey; in cities such as Charlotte, Houston, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toledo; and two other Illinois counties.

In addition, the public is hearing about the high number of shootings, but the majority of the city’s gun-related cases in bond court around July 4 were not related to those shootings and did not involve allegations that the weapon was fired. From July 3 through July 8, there were 114 gun-related cases in bond court. Eleven of those cases (9.6%) involved a discharge of a weapon. Of those 11 cases, six defendants were held without bail and not released. The other five defendants received monetary bonds.

These 114 cases also involved 19 defendants (16%) who had a pending gun case or a prior gun-related conviction. But none of the pending or prior cases involved allegations that anybody was shot. Judges can only draw conclusions from the facts presented to them.

Our judges follow the U.S. Constitution and the laws of Illinois. They are committed to justice in the Circuit Court of Cook County. This is what we do — and will continue to do — every day.

Timothy C. Evans is chief judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County

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