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Cook County has the largest unified trial court system in the world, disposing over 6 million cases in 1990 alone.
The Council and Chicago Appleseed Get Results: Reform in Bond Court
Tuesday, December 16, 2008 Chicago Appleseed Fund
video camera at the 26th Street Central Bond Court was turned off on Monday,
December 15. A new pre-trial services program began work at 7am that day. The
Chicago Council of Lawyers and Chicago Appleseed are working with the court to
promote a program through which 17-19 year old nonviolent offenders will be
identified through the new pretrial services program for a special diversion
program involving both treatment and education opportunities. This is a
victory for the people of Cook County.
A court's determination of whether to conditionally release or incarcerate a
criminal defendant until trial or other disposition of the case is an immensely
important part of the criminal justice process. Incarcerated defendants have
limited opportunity to work and communicate with attorneys, investigators, and
witnesses, thereby impairing their ability to prepare a defense. Numerous studies
have shown that defendants who remain in secure detention are at a significant
disadvantage relative to those who are released pending trial.
All of this comes at a staggering cost to the taxpayer - the defendants and
their employers lose earnings, families lose support, and the more direct costs
of the incarceration itself are reported by the Cook County Sheriff's
Department to be more than $100 per day per inmate.
In February 2007, the Council and Chicago Appleseed Justice called for an
immediate end of video bond hearings. We believed that comprehensive, in-person
hearings are necessary, with information presented so the judge can make an
In December 2007, Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, working with the Chicago
Council of Lawyers, published A Report on Chicago's Felony Courts. This
comprehensive report shed light on a criminal justice system which has become
our defacto mental health and drug treatment system. The report included 50
specific recommendations for change, with suggestions for reallocation of
resources, caseload and workload restructuring, facility improvements, and
better use of diversion programs.
Among the most important of these recommendations are three that have a direct
bearing on Bond Court:
· Cook County needs in-person bond hearings with the capability of identifying
non-violent offenders for special diversion programs.
· Cook County needs a pre-trial services program to give the judges reliable
information before bond is set. Recognizing the paucity of government funding,
we suggest utilizing volunteer law students, lawyers, and social work students
to gather information and prepare reports.
· Judges, defense counsel, prosecutors, and probation officers need additional
Since the release of the report on the felony courts, Chicago Appleseed and the
Council have been in discussi ons with Chief Judge Tim Evans, calling for the
use of a courtroom on the first floor of 26th Street for bond hearings,
eliminating the need for videoconferencing. We recommended reinstatement of a
fully functional pre-trial services department to inform the court of relevant
facts. We have recommended during these discussions that, if necessary, the
Cook County Probation Department work with trained and supervised volunteer
students and lawyers to gather the necessary background information in time for
We also began discussions with the Criminal Division of the Circuit Court in
determining whether an in- person Central Bond Court coupled with an effective
pre-trial services program can be used to help bring together non-violent drug
offenders under the age of 22 for special diversion programs, including the
vocational and educational opportunities they need to survive.
We applaud the efforts of the Circuit Court of Cook County in bringing about
these needed reforms. We also support the efforts of Cook County Sheriff Tom
Dart to improve Central Bond Court even further. We will be working to monitor
the results of these reforms, to suggest and help make necessary adjustments,
and to seek the20implementation of even more of the recommendations found in
our 2007 Report. The major stakeholders in the criminal justice system have
begun to cooperate in bringing about needed reforms. Chicago Appleseed and the
Chicago Council of Lawyers will continue to promote these coordinated reform
Malcolm C. Rich
Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice
Chicago Council of Lawyers
Daniel T. Coyne
President, Chicago Council of Lawyers
Associate Professor of Clinical Practice
Chicago-Kent College of Law
Mary E. Anderson
President, Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice