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MacArthur Foundation donates $2.5 million to Cook County Criminal Courts

The Chicago-based foundation has invested $4.4 million to fund reforms to bond system and specialty courts.

The Leighton Criminal Courthouse at 26th and California.
The Leighton Criminal Courthouse at 26th and California.
Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

The Cook County court system has received a $2.5 million grant to fund criminal justice reforms, the Chicago-based John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced Wednesday.

The $2.5 million was awarded as part of the foundation’s Safety & Justice Challenge grant program, which awards funds to programs that promote reductions in the number of people in jail and racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Cook County, which in 2017 received a $1.85 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation, was one of five jurisdictions to receive funding.

The 2017 grant largely went to hiring staff to support the courts attempts to reduce the use of money bail and enable more defendants to avoid jail ahead of trial, and the award announced Wednesday was based “on the promise and progress of work to date.”

The grant money will be used to support review of cases where defendants who remain in jail want low bails; a peer mentoring program for defendants who have been repeatedly arrested related to substance abuse or mental health issues; services to help defendants charged with non-violent drug offenses find jobs and “avoid actions that harm communities.”

The grant also will support design of a process to allow defendants with years-old outstanding warrants appear in court to address the warrants.