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Bond court reform has not put more violent offenders back on the street

Wednesday, January 09, 2019
Chicago Sun-Times
by Toni Preckwinkle

Bond court reform has not put more violent offenders back on the street

Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times


Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson recently addressed the City Club and implied that violent offenders are being released from custody due to lax bond court processes. That is not true.

Cook County has put in place many reforms to the bond court process over the last several years. These initiatives have made the bond court process fairer and more equitable, and they have also improved public safety in Cook County.

In September 2017, Chief Judge Timothy Evans issued a general order that encouraged judges to set affordable monetary bails, detain pretrial defendants who pose a danger to the community and provide community supervision of those released as needed.

Judges are using a validated public safety assessment tool, systematically using the analysis of risk factors for new offenses, violence and failures to appear to assist with bond decisions. Today at bond court you will see an improved courtroom and an expanded staff.

When I took office, the average number of detainees in the jail was more than 10,000.

Due to the efforts of Cook County’s public safety stakeholders, the average detainee population has decreased by more than 40 percent. The current population is now well below 6,000.

Five out of 10 felony defendants, nearly 50 percent, who appear in bond court now receive personal recognizance bonds, commonly referred to as I-bonds. This is up significantly from 2012 when the I-bonds were ordered in fewer than 20 percent of cases, for example.

Bond court reform has not contributed to an uptick in crime and violence in our communities. There has not been an increase in people re-offending after they have been released or not showing up to their court dates.

In fact, orders denying bail, which stipulate that defendants cannot be released under any conditions, have increased to 8 percent of felony cases up from 1 percent of felony cases. Bond court decisions have become better at separating non-violent offenders, who may just need a personal recognizance bond, from offenders who are likely to commit new violent offenses and must not be released.

Now, less than one half of 1 percent of all defendants released were charged with committing a new violent offense while in the community.

People are not being rearrested at the rates claimed by naysayers. Nearly 90 percent of felony defendants released from custody in the year following the issuing of the general order have not been re-arrested while they await trial.

People are coming to court. Almost 86 percent of felony defendants released in the year following the issuing of the general order have successfully appeared for all scheduled court dates.

Meanwhile in the County, crime rates continue to drop, including a substantial reduction in shootings while these reforms to bond court have been enacted.

These measures have helped improve our collective public safety while also ensuring that nonviolent defendants can continue to go to school, go to work and take care of their family while awaiting their day in court. Every day that a person spends in jail awaiting trial is a day they’ve lost of their life. We need people to be productive members of our communities, and remember that people are innocent until proven guilty.

Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board president



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