Judges in Chicago’s Cook County have sharply lowered bonds for people accused of violent domestic attacks and prosecutors are dropping more of these cases, which places victims at risk as potentially dangerous suspects are released from custody, reports the Chicago Tribune. The changes follow efforts by county officials to reduce jail overcrowding and address long-standing racial inequities in bonds that can keep defendants jailed simply because they cannot pay. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle adopted the measures with the support of State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Chief Judge Timothy Evans. Advocates for women applaud the reforms’ intent but say prosecutors and judges are now releasing suspects without fully considering the safety of domestic battery survivors. “Reform is being pursued at the expense of the victims. They have been left out of the conversation,” said Amanda Pyron of the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network.
Police, prosecutors and lawmakers long have recognized that the repetitive nature of domestic violence leaves victims at risk from attackers released from custody. One man who set fire to his ex-girlfriend’s garage with a Molotov cocktail had been released on a no-cash bond at least six times as he returned to batter her. Another man returned to beat his wife in front of their 3-year-old daughter after he was released when a judge reduced his bond from a previous attack against her. Reporters examined 2,672 police reports of aggravated domestic battery from 2016 and 2018, before and after changes took effect. Reporters tracked the progress of each case. Average bonds plummeted in 2018 to less than a quarter of what they were in 2016. Prosecutors dropped more cases before trial in 2018, dismissing 70 percent of the cases reviewed by the Tribune, compared with 56 percent in 2016. Police reports of aggravated domestic battery are concentrated in lower-income communities that are predominantly African American.