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Dramatically reduce the population of Cook County Jail and protect public health

As of Oct. 31, at least 1,420 people have sat in jail only because they couldn’t afford to pay the bond amount set by a judge.

Cook County Jail in Chicago.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

In 2017, Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans implemented General Order (GO) 18.8A, which required that judges take a person’s ability to pay into account when setting a bond amount. Since that time, the county’s average jail population has declined by about 16%, while at the same time overall crime also has declined.

Just last week, researchers Don Stemen and David Olson of Loyola University published findings that there was no difference in the proportion of people who allegedly committed a violent crime while out on bail (only around 3% of people both before and after Judge Evan’s general order).

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Yet, today, as we embark on the third wave of a global pandemic that demands physical distancing from others, the number of people living communally in Cook County Jail is higher than it has been in months, with more 5,500 people inside.

An analysis of data from the Cook County sheriff’s office, obtained through FOIA request by Chicago Appleseed and the Chicago Council of Lawyers, showed that, as of October 31, at least 1,420 people were sitting in jail only because they couldn’t afford to pay the bond amount set by a judge.

Judges are allowed to deny bail to anyone who appears to be dangerous, a point worth emphasizing. These 1,420 people were given an opportunity to leave the jail, but that opportunity was inaccessible to them simply because they lacked the cash. More than 130 people needed to post $1,000 or less to await trial at home.

As we conclude the ninth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, you would think Cook County would have learned something. But after reducing the jail’s population significantly in the spring, we’re back to square one. On Nov. 16, an 85-year-old man, Harold Graszer, died while awaiting trial; he was the eighth person known to have died from COVID-19 complications while in the custody of the sheriff and the first to die in over 7 months.

This untenable situation is going to get only more dangerous for everyone in the state as the pandemic rages and the jail population grows. Data published in the Journal of Health Affairs in April showed that the cycling of people through Cook County Jail was associated with almost 16% of all documented COVID-19 cases in Illinois. That statistic should scare everyone, especially considering the fact that bail reform and decarceration has proven safe and effective but still remain underutilized in Cook County.

Stephanie Agnew, Chicago Appleseed and the Chicago Council of Lawyers

Sabotaging Biden presidency

Donald Trump will do all he can to sabotage the presidency of Joe Biden. There will be overheated shredders, cases of pens for executive orders, and devastation of American’s faith in the election process.

Our democracy is in peril, even as Biden enters the White House.

Trump and his 70-million-plus supporters aren’t going away. They will be shadowing the Biden presidency for the next four years, but not with the success of Biden and our nation in mind.

Let’s hope America’s “grand experiment” in democracy can endure.

Karen Wagner, Rolling Meadows