Statement from Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans

Released On 10/24/2016

On a national level, there is a public conversation about the use of monetary bond in pretrial detention of defendants.

Locally, a Cook County Board resolution seeks to hold a hearing to explore the issue of alternatives to monetary bond.

I’m pleased that Cook County is joining the national conversation at this time. The Circuit Court of Cook County is currently in a transition period regarding pretrial detention in felony cases in Central Bond Court at the Leighton Criminal Court Building.

I have been working on this transition with the court and the other justice system stakeholders for several years. As a result of these efforts:

  • More people are receiving individual-recognizance bonds and electronic monitoring for pretrial release.
  • Fewer people must pay money to be released before trial.
  • The vast majority of defendants released into the community and ordered to supervision by our pretrial services team are attending court hearings and not getting re-arrested during the pendency of their case.
  • The jail population has dropped by at least 2,000 inmates compared to three years ago.

It is important to note that the Circuit Court of Cook County is not in a position of rooting for outcomes. The court’s priority is fairness and due process.

As part of our transition efforts, we implemented a scientifically validated assessment tool that has assisted the court in releasing more people pretrial since we implemented the process last year.

The County Board resolution specifically refers to a class-action lawsuit. Nothing in this statement is a comment on that litigation.

Illinois Supreme Court Rule 63 prohibits me and my staff from commenting on a case pending in any court. Rule 63 states: “A judge should abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court, and should require similar abstention on the part of court personnel subject to the judge’s direction and control.”

I can comment on court procedures and our use of the Public Safety Assessment (PSA), which we started using for felony cases in Central Bond Court on July 1, 2015 and fully implemented on March 21, 2016. This is a partnership with the Laura and John Arnold Foundation that comes at no cost to the taxpayers of Cook County.

The PSA analyzes objective data related to a defendant’s criminal history and current charge to generate a risk-assessment score that reliably predicts whether a defendant will commit another crime, commit a violent crime, or fail to appear in court if he or she is released before trial.

The process, administered by the court’s pretrial services division, includes conducting the PSA risk assessment, an interview, and an exit interview in which the defendants are provided instructions about their responsibilities to comply with potential release conditions and are informed of the importance of contacting their pretrial officer and appearing at their next court date.

Based on data that my staff has analyzed:

  • The use of I-bonds and electronic monitoring is climbing. In the quarter just prior to PSA implementation (April 2015 - June 2015), defendants received I-bonds or electronic monitoring in 52 percent of non-violent, non-weapons cases. In April and May of this year – the latest figures available and the first two months of full PSA implementation – the figure climbed to 67 percent.
  • The number of monetary bonds is decreasing. In non-violent, non-weapons cases, monetary D-bonds have decreased from 42 percent of the cases since the quarter before PSA implementation (April 2015 - June 2015) to 30 percent in April and May of this year – the latest figures available and the first two months of full PSA implementation.
  • Many of the lowest-risk inmates are being released before trial. For the first half of 2016, the overall pretrial-release rate for the lowest-risk defendants in non-violent, non-weapons cases was 94 percent. That means that more than 9 out of every 10 of the lowest-risk defendants are not held in jail before their case is resolved, by trial or otherwise. They either received an I-bond or electronic monitoring – or they posted the amount needed for their monetary bond.
  • Defendants who are being released into the community and supervised by our pretrial services team are not re-offending and are attending their scheduled court dates. This year, through August, only 2.7 percent of those defendants had another arrest; and just 2.5 percent of those defendants failed to appear for court.

We’re a leader in this effort, as only 10 percent of jurisdictions in the United States use risk-data analytics. We use the PSA tool effectively, but certainly not exclusively, as it is only one of many aspects that a judge reviews about a defendant in bond court.

In November 2014, the court moved the start time of felony bond court from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. every day. With this extra time built into the system, a pretrial officer spends 45 to 60 minutes working on each defendant’s case prior to Bond Court.

The PSA has been in use since July 1, 2015, generating risk scores for judges to consider. Full implementation began on March 21, 2016, when pretrial services officers began making recommendations on the record in court to judges as to the level of supervision conditions to be applied if the defendant is released from custody. Part of the original PSA roll-out plan was to delay the recommendations so that my office could audit the program to ensure that pretrial officers were accurately interpreting the risk scores that the PSA generates.

In addition, training for judges and court staff has been a major part of the PSA rollout.

We provided hands-on training for pretrial officers as well as in-person and webinar trainings for judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and sheriff staff. The training sessions were held in June 2015 and November 2015. Additionally, pretrial officers underwent an extensive recertification process in Law Enforcement Agencies Data System (LEADS) and received training on how to interpret criminal history information to ensure accuracy of the PSA risk scores being presented to the judges.

The PSA is now being used in all of our suburban courthouses as well.

Our commitment to bond reform countywide continues.

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