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MacArthur grants Cook County another $2.5 million for criminal justice reform
Despite local squabbles, the foundation boosted its funding as part of a $217 million national initiative to reduce overincarceration and address racial and ethnic disparities.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020
Crain's Chicago Business
by A.D. Quig

Cook County got $2.5 million more from the MacArthur Foundation for criminal justice reform, a rare issue that unifies county officials.

“MacArthur remains committed to supporting jurisdictions as they set ambitious reform goals and pursue smart solutions that safely reduce jail populations, address disparities, and eliminate ineffective, inefficient and unfair practices,” MacArthur Director of Criminal Justice Laurie Garduque said in a release.

The grant comes on top of $1.85 million MacArthur pledged in 2017. The new money will go to several areas:

  • Lawyers and court personnel will determine why defendants with low bail can't post it.
  • Peer mentors could be provided for people with repeat arrests where substance abuse or mental health is an underlying sues to make sure they stick with treatment plans and court appearances.
  • Nonviolent defendants in drug-dealing cases could be offered help getting jobs.
  • Look at whether a process can be set up to allow those with years-old warrants to address them at a future court date.

Reforms kicked off in earnest in 2015 with Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ succeeding in efforts to make bail amounts affordable and to launch a risk-assessment tool to help predict how likely a defendant is to reoffend or appear in court. Prosecutors and defense lawyers also committed to asking judges to release some misdemeanor defendants on so-called i-bonds, which require only a pledge to show up to court. As a result, the jail population has dropped from over 10,000 in 2014 to around 6,000 today. Defenders say violent crime has not climbed as a result.

Evans says that since the reforms were implemented, judges have deemed more felony defendants a danger to the community and held them without release. “Judges issued eight times the number of No Bail orders in felony cases since the order took effect,” he said in a May 2019 report.

The current stakeholder group includes Evans, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, Public Defender Amy Campanelli, Sheriff Tom Dart, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, the Chicago Police Department, and Cook County Health.

In a release, Barbara West, the soon-to-be Deputy Superintendent of Constitutional Policing and Reform, said the MacArthur partnership “has been an invaluable resource for connecting agencies, data and new knowledge around alternatives to arrest and incarceration,” while Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown said the grant “further(s) our efforts to reduce over-incarceration in our jails and eradicate its disproportionately negative impact on people of color and impoverished communities.”

Some members have clashed with each other, the Chicago Police Department, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot about implementation of the reforms, and how the changes have impacted Chicago’s gun violence.

 

 



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