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Cook County gets $1.85 million grant for criminal justice reform

From left, Public Defender Amy Campanelli, StateÕs Attorney Kim Foxx, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans, MacArthur Foundation President Julia Stasch and Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke before the announcement of the MacArthur Foundation grant for the county justice system. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Cook County’s efforts to reduce the number of people locked up in the county jail have reaped praise and a $1.85 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

The money will fund programs aimed at further reducing the size of the once over-stuffed Cook County Jail, by gathering data on the county’s bond reform efforts, and the launch of a pilot program to steer addicts and the mentally ill out of the criminal justice system.

The grant was one of 20 announced in the latest round of funding from the Chicago-based foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, which backs criminal justice reform efforts in cities and counties across the U.S.

MacArthur Foundation President Julia Stasch on Wednesday lauded the cooperation between county officials to change policies that have led to “over-incarceration” and called Cook County a role model for the country.

“What they’re doing is showing change is possible in the context of a national atmosphere where the federal government has turned its back on bi-partisan reform,” Stasch said at a news conference.

Chief Cook County Judge Timothy Evans rattled off statistics about the impact of policy changes that took effect last month, which asked judges to avoid setting cash bond amounts that non-violent offenders cannot afford to pay.

In the last two weeks, the number of individual recognizance bonds granted doubled countywide, and 75 percent of defendants have been released on bond or monitoring.

Evans said the changes so far had caused a drop of about 250 people inside the jail, which typically has around 7,000 inmates.