PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Evans changes cash-bail process for more pretrial release

Released On 07/17/2017

Defendants who pose no danger to the public will be released from custody pending trial because any future bail amounts will be set at an amount they can afford, under an order Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans entered today that will take effect on September 18, 2017, in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Defendants should not be sitting in jail awaiting trial simply because they lack the financial resources to secure their release. If they are not deemed a danger to any person or the public, my order states that they will receive a bail they can afford,” Chief Judge Evans said.

Chief Judge Evans’ order states that a judge must ensure that “the defendant has the present ability to pay the amount necessary to secure his or her release on bail.” This means that judges in the Circuit Court of Cook County can only set bail in an amount that a defendant can afford to pay at the time of the bail hearing, which ensures the defendant’s release.

As part of this significant change to the process, Chief Judge Evans will also create a new division of the court specifically for initial bail proceedings, effective September 18, 2017. The establishment of a new division, with a presiding judge to oversee it, will allow the court to further examine and enhance bail-setting procedures. All judges will have the opportunity to request assignment to the new division.

If a judge finds that a defendant’s future court attendance can only be accomplished by setting a monetary bail, Chief Judge Evans’ order lays out procedures for the court to follow that will assist the judge in setting a bail that the defendant can afford to pay. For the first time, court staff and judges will be required to inquire into the ability of a defendant to pay a bail amount.

For the defendant to be released, the judge must also find that the defendant does not present a danger to the community. Judges also have the discretion to release defendants on individual-recognizance bonds or electronic monitoring, which do not require the defendant to pay money to be released.

Defendants who are found to be a danger to a person or the community, after a bail hearing, will be held in jail without bond.

Chief Judge Evans’ order takes effect on September 18, 2017, for all felony cases in the Circuit Court of Cook County. The order will take effect for misdemeanors on January 1, 2018, when court staff begins conducting pretrial risk assessments of misdemeanor defendants. (Pretrial risk assessments of felony defendants began in June 2015).

After the first year of the order’s implementation, Chief Judge Evans plans to review statistics to see what effect the order has on: the size and makeup of the jail population; whether defendants attend future court hearings; and whether defendants commit new offenses while their case is pending.

HISTORY

For the past year, Chief Judge Evans has been on record with his position regarding his preference for a bail system similar to the system in Washington, D.C., where the vast majority of defendants receive release pending trial without being required to pay cash bail. He stated his position to the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board in June 2016 and to the Cook County Board in October 2016.

Today’s order is consistent with both the letter and spirit of the Illinois bail statutes, as the law states that monetary bail shall be “not oppressive” and “considerate of the financial ability of the accused.” In addition, parts of the Bail Reform Act of 2017 take effect on January 1, 2018, and state that there is a presumption that bail shall be “non-monetary in nature” and that a judge should impose “the least restrictive conditions or combinations of conditions” on a defendant.

This is the next step in the effort by Chief Judge Evans to enhance the pretrial process. The Circuit Court of Cook County was the first state court system in Illinois to implement the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) tool provided by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation at no expense to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

The court applies the PSA to defendants with felony charges to provide more information to the judge in bond court and to provide an assessment of whether a defendant is likely to commit another crime, commit a violent crime or fail to appear for future court dates. The court began using the PSA in June 2015, and full implementation in felony cases occurred in March 2016.

To understand the makeup of the jail population by case type, the Office of the Chief Judge has analyzed data from the Clerk of the Circuit Court and the Sheriff’s Office regarding jail inmates who are awaiting trial. Of the 6,689 inmates awaiting trial in jail at the end of the first quarter of this year on March 31, 2017: 3,025 defendants were charged with a violent crime; 1,058 were charged with a weapons crime; and 494 were charged with a person-related crime such as assault, battery or child neglect.

That means nearly 70 percent of the jail population of pretrial defendants face violent, weapons or person-related charges. To indicate how the jail population has changed since Chief Judge Evans’ improvements to the pretrial process, consider the figure that was quoted in the news media in the years prior to PSA implementation. Prior to PSA implementation, 70 percent of the jail population was said to be awaiting trial on nonviolent offenses.

COMMENTS

The following officials issued these statements regarding today’s announcement:

Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia: “I applaud Chief Judge Evans on the groundbreaking order that he has issued today. To my knowledge no chief judge of Cook County (or for that matter, any county in Illinois) has ever issued any order of this sort. It is an extraordinary and significant step towards the critical and constitutionally mandated goal of ending the longstanding practice of jailing presumptively innocent persons prior to trial because they are too poor to post cash bail. I urge the Circuit Court judges to follow this directive, and more importantly, call on our Illinois Supreme Court to issue a rule ending pretrial incarceration on the basis of poverty all over our great state.”

Sharlyn Grace, Senior Criminal Justice Policy Analyst at Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice: “This order represents a dramatic improvement of our pretrial justice system in Cook County and thus our entire criminal justice system. No longer will access to money determine who awaits trial in jail and who awaits trial in the community. As a result, our courts will be fairer for all county residents.”

Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly M. Foxx: “The Chief Judge’s order today provides important guidance for the judiciary and the entire criminal justice system on the need to reduce our reliance on monetary bond. There is often no clear relationship between the posting of a cash bond and securing the safety of the community or the appearance of a defendant. As a result, far too many people have been detained pre-trial because they are poor and unable to post even minimal amounts for bond. This order provides an important reminder that our focus should be on non-monetary conditions of bond to ensure appearance in court and protect public safety. I commend Judge Evans for continuing Cook County’s work towards meaningful bail reform.”

Public Defender Amy P. Campanelli: “There are too many of my clients in the Cook County Jail simply because they are poor and cannot afford bail. Chief Judge Evans’ administrative order follows the law while helping to ensure that when bail is set, it is affordable. This order requires that bail not be oppressive, and must be considerate of the financial ability of the accused. I commend Chief Judge Evans for taking steps that should result in more of my clients being released so they can return to their families, jobs and communities.”

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