Tom Dart urges lawmakers to scrap reform requiring criminal defendants on home detention to get 2 furlough days a week

The sheriff points to 129 rearrests of people on “essential movement” furloughs since the reform took effect Jan. 1, 2022. The public defender’s office says the laws rightly lets people go to the doctor, do laundry and shop.

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Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart at the Cook County Jail.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart at the Cook County Jail.

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Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says he plans to ask the Illinois General Assembly to revoke a reform that allows criminal defendants who are being held on home detention while awaiting trial to get two days of furlough time during which they can leave home to go shopping, do laundry and take care of other personal business.

From the time the reform was enacted on Jan. 1, 2022, until this May 1, 129 people in Cook County have ended up getting arrested while on these furloughs for what’s labeled “essential movement.”

Twenty-nine of them were charged with gun-related crimes while on those days off from constant supervision, mostly for illegal possession of a firearm.

Other cases involved acts of violence, including an armed robbery, a kidnapping, a carjacking, firing a gun at a car at a gas station and pointing a gun at an off-duty Chicago cop, who fired back and struck someone in the gunman’s car.

Essential movement — which the sheriff calls “free movement” — is required under Illinois’ Pre-Trial Fairness Act. That law is facing a court challenge on constitutional grounds because of another provision it includes — this one eliminating cash bail.

Dart said he wouldn’t be surprised if legislators choose not to try to change the law until after the Supreme Court decides on the legality of the elimination of cash bail.

That provision of the law was included because civil rights advocates said the bail system kept a disproportionate number of poor people in jail. They couldn’t afford to put up even a modest amount of money to go free while awaiting trial, the advocates said.

In an interview, Dart said he’s still pushing to persuade legislators to kill the essential movement provision.

“I’m wildly opposed to this, and I’m going to try and do everything I can to stop it,” he said.

The Cook County public defender’s office promises to fight back on that.

Sharlyn Grace, senior policy adviser to Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell.

Sharlyn Grace, senior policy adviser to Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell.

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“We would oppose repealing the provisions of the Pre-Trial Fairness Act,” said Sharlyn Grace, senior policy adviser to Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell.

Dart’s office said that, in the month before the essential movement provision took effect, most people on electronic monitoring in Cook County who asked to leave home for a specific reason were allowed to. The sheriff’s office and judges already were authorized to approve that. It was approved in 73% of the cases it was requested, according to Dart’s office, for reasons including regularly scheduled doctor appointments, job interviews and laundry runs.

The sheriff’s office tracked their ankle bracelets to confirm their locations.

People on essential movement continue to wear monitoring devices, but Dart said his office doesn’t track them during their two days a week of furlough. He said people in these circumstances can go almost anywhere they wish and that his office doesn’t have the staff to follow thousands of zig-zagging “dots” on a monitoring screen.

Dart said he’s unhappy at how criminal justice reforms have transformed electronic monitoring from a program for people charged with nonviolent crimes to cover even people charged with murder, kidnapping, rape and robbery.

He said people on essential movement represent most of the people on electronic monitoring who’ve been accused of a new crime while on furlough in “the community,” not in or near their homes.

Most of the people on such furloughs who were arrested for gun-related crimes away from their homes had initially been put on electronic monitoring for other gun-related charges, according to the sheriff’s records.

Dart said the number of arrests of people on essential movement represents a small fraction of the thousands of people in the electronic monitoring program but that he still finds it disturbing. More than 4,100 people were placed on electronic monitoring last year, according to the sheriff’s office.

Grace pointed to one November 2021 day — about a month before the Pre-Trial Safety Act took effect — when only about 40% of the people in Cook County on electronic monitoring had orders that would allow them to have “reoccurring” movement outside their homes.

Now, Grace said, “We have thousands of people who can go grocery shopping, do their laundry and are successful in using it.”

Home detention can cause severe strains on family relationships, which essential movement can help alleviate, she said.

Grace also said the sheriff’s figure of 129 people on essential movement being rearrested over the past 17 months shows the program is successful because the ratio of arrests to the total number of people on electronic monitoring is so low.

“Some percentage of people will be rearrested,” she said. “That’s the nature of the U.S. legal system. The only solution is to jail everyone awaiting trial.”

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