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Monday Letters: Bail system ensures defendants come to court

The Criminal Courts Building in Chicago. | Supplied photo

The Nov. 16 Sun-Times editorial, “Jail is for dangerous criminals, not shoplifters,” urging a “no-cash” bail system, is at best shallow.

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Relying on my experience as a judge and court administrator for nearly 30 years and as a lawyer for nearly 50 years, I am condensing my response as follows.

  • A great many defendants held in jail while awaiting trial do not want to be released from jail. There are many reasons for this, depending on the circumstances, but a common one is a defendant intends to plead guilty and an incarceration sentence will be reduced by the time defendant has been held in jail. (Cook County Jail is closer to defendant’s friends and family to visit than a downstate prison.)
  • Many, if not most, defendants held in jail for failure to post cash bail are recidivists. That is, they are repeat offenders who are “regulars” in the criminal justice system, and they play the system. They know that if they post cash bail and are found guilty, the bail money will be ordered to pay fines, fees, costs, and defense counsel fees. Those who might lend defendant cash for bail know that, too.
  • It is disingenuous that the editorial urges the cash bail system be junked because some accused felons post 10 percent cash bail to secure the bond (e.g., $5,000 of a $50,000 bond) and be released but another accused does not post $1,000 bail and is held in jail. One example has nothing to do with the other; it is irrelevant and meaningless; it proves nothing.

The purpose of pretrial detention in Cook County Jail is not “to protect us from shoplifters” who do not post bail, unless the bond court judge determines they are a danger to themselves or the public. Rather, the purpose is to ensure defendant’s next appearance in court.

Very important to the operation of the current bail-bond system is the bond court judge receiving accurate and timely information about the defendant and his/her family, friends, employment status, etc. from the court’s pretrial services officers, state’s attorney, and defense counsel. In setting cash bail/bond or release on recognizance (a promise to appear in court), the court also considers, when brought to its attention, defendant’s conduct during arrest and during time in law enforcement custody, including time in the court’s holding cell, as well as defendant’s demeanor and speech (if any) when before the judge.

Dennis M. Dohm,
retired Circuit Court judge,
Oak Lawn

Courageous vote

Per the article about the Cook County sweetened beverage tax, I’m writing to thank the commissioners that voted “yes” for a healthy source of revenue. It was a courageous vote and put Cook County in the vanguard of communities dealing with this nutrition issue.

The Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity, which includes the American Heart Association, Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children, Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians, among many other health groups, are interested not just in taxing for health, but in taking the opportunity the tax presents to spend for health in ways that will reduce the effects of debilitating diseases in our most vulnerable communities. As an added benefit, these investments could create long term savings in health care.

Thousands of county residents have diabetes and obesity. Chronic diseases cost the County health care system over $200 million per year.

Health advocates should work with the County Board to look at how we invest in preventing obesity and diabetes and related chronic disease. While the health system is making important strides in helping people control their illness, the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend making real investments in public health department interventions with kids, families and communities to stop obesity and diabetes before people develop them. That’s where the long term health improvement can be achieved. Investing in interventions that help the most vulnerable communities will help our County fully realize the potential of the historic and courageous stand they took last week.

Janna Simon,
Illinois Public Health Institute

False promises

When Bill Clinton left office, the economy was humming and the government had accumulated a surplus. Under George W. Bush and the GOP, taxes were cut, two wars (one unnecessary) were started, deficits soared and the economy tanked with failing banks, houses under water, and millions of lost jobs. President Barack Obama came into office in the midst of this crisis. With calm and order, he slowly and carefully brought our economy back and saved the entire U.S. auto industry. He scaled back the wars, addressed climate change, and passed the Affordable Care Act, allowing 20 million more people to access health insurance and reduced the rate of health insurance cost increases.

But, it didn’t happen fast enough for all of the people. Many people are still hurting. And so people bought the Kool Aid of Trump’s promises — using minorities as scapegoats and never explaining how he would effect these economic miracles. Why this billionaire would help working people is a mystery since he has stiffed his workers for years. How he will “drain the swamp” when his appointees, so far, are old-school pols, I don’t know. I hope that I am wrong but it looks like he has duped hardworking Americans.

Carol Kraines, Deerfield