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Why those 19 inmates were in Cook County Jail

Wednesday, December 26, 2018
Chicago Sun-Times
by Timothy C. Evans, chief judge,

Why those 19 inmates were in Cook County Jail

The population at Cook County Jail has dropped below 5,900 for the first time in decades. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

The population at Cook County Jail has dropped below 5,900 for the first time in decades. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times


I write to provide clarity and context to an editorial that ran on Dec. 20, “A true Christmas season scandal – 19 inmates in jail just because they’re poor.”

As with anything involving judicial decisions, there is always context to explore to understand the nuances of how the justice system works.


The fact is that our judges previously released 15 of these defendants to the community. For varying reasons, they returned to jail because they did not comply with the terms of either their pretrial release while their cases were pending or their probation sentences that allowed them to avoid prison time when their cases concluded.

Three of the defendants were in custody because they were enrolled in substance-abuse treatment in jail. Generally speaking, defendants in jail-based treatment complete a 90-day program so that they can increase their chances of successful sobriety when they return home.

Sun-Times readers should know that justice is evolving in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Bail reform has yielded results, as the jail population is down from hovering around 10,000 inmates five years ago to 5,709 as of last week.

The jail composition also reflects the fact that our judges are statutorily required to balance the rights of the accused against the safety of the public. Nearly three-quarters of the jail consists of defendants who have a violent, weapons or person-related charge. For pretrial defendants who are released, nearly nine out of 10 attend court as required and are not re-arrested.

In our system of justice, all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. And all defendants must accept consequences when they do not follow the terms of release that judges have provided to them.

Timothy C. Evans, chief judge,
Circuit Court of Cook County

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