The number of Cook County, Il., jail inmates dropped by more than 1,600 in the months after a mandate to set affordable bonds for criminal defendants, says Chief Judge Timothy Evans. In 2017, Evans appointed a new slate of bond court judges, renaming the half-dozen jurists the “Pre-Trial Division,” with new procedures to evaluate defendants’ criminal history and likelihood to commit more crimes if allowed to go free while awaiting trial, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Data from the first 15 months under the changes show that the jail population dropped from 7,433 to 5,799 and that the average bond amount fell from $5,000 to $1,000. The percentage of inmates picking up new charges while on bond dropped slightly. Violent crime in Chicago dropped 8 percent during the same period.
The percentage of defendants getting an “I-bond,” which allows them to go free without posting any cash, almost doubled, while 10 times as many defendants were held without bond, meaning no sum of cash could secure their release. Nearly 90 percent of defendants to go free on bond had not been charged with a new crime while free during the 15 months studied. Evans said “judges are respecting the rights of the accused by releasing eligible pretrial defendants from jail without increasing the threat to public safety.” He said “judges are also protecting our communities by deeming more pretrial defendants a danger and holding them in custody without bail.” Cara Smith, policy director for Sheriff Tom Dart, praised “steps toward reform,” but said Dart remains concerned that more defendants charged in weapons and violent crime cases are being placed on electronic monitoring. The ankle-mounted devices “ping” sheriff’s officials if a defendant leaves their home outside of proscribed hours while on bond, but they are not capable of tracking the location of the wearer.