On any given day, tens of thousands of people are incarcerated in county jails in Illinois. Most of these people are being incarcerated pretrialmeaning they have not been convicted of a crime and are only being incarcerated because they are too poor to post bond. In June, the state of Illinois passed the Bail Reform Act of 2017. In Cook County, Chief Judge Evans then issued a general order aimed at addressing widespread injustice in the county's bond court. While advocates have welcomed these reforms, the reforms have failed to fully address the totality of the harms still being caused by Illinois' unconstitutional money bail system.
More than 70 advocates & community organizations, including former United States Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. have joined The Coalition To End Money Bond and Cook County stakeholders in requesting that Illinois' highest court take the lead on addressing this issue. In a letter to the Illinois Supreme Court Rules Committee, the diverse group asks the Committee to institute a proposed court rule that would require an evidentiary hearing and a finding by the judge that an accused person is able to afford the monetary bail amount before allowing a monetary bond to be set in any criminal case.
The Coalition's letter to the Illinois Supreme Court Rules Committee comes one month after Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli sent a letter requesting the same rule on behalf of her office and other county stakeholders including Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, Chief Judge Timothy Evans, State's Attorney Kim Foxx, and Sheriff Tom Dart. An evaluation of Cook County's bail practices prepared by Holder's firm, Covington & Burling, was released in July 2017 and recommended promulgation of an Illinois Supreme Court Rule.
"At every level of Illinois state and local government, there is agreement that Illinois' bail system urgently needs reform. Legislators and local courts have made progress, but the most effective and permanent reforms will come from a Supreme Court rule," said Sharlyn Grace of Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice.
On September 18th, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans' general order to reform the county's bail process went into effect for people charged with felonies. For a month, volunteer court watchers were present in Central Bond Court observing and documenting the order's implementation. They witnessed multiple judges defying the order's instructions and setting bond in amounts higher than people could pay. Of the 184 people who court watchers observed receiving monetary bail, only 48% were able to pay their bond and secure release within seven days. While the Coalition praises the significant drop in Cook County Jail's population since the order went into effect, some judges have openly stated that they are not bound by the order's directive to set affordable bails.
"Chief Judge Evans' order has been a step in the right direction, but it has not yet ensured that no one is being locked up in Cook County Jail because they can't afford to pay a monetary bond. Right now, thousands of people remain incarcerated in Cook County Jail due only to bonds they cannot pay, most of which were set before the order took effect. The Illinois Supreme Court has the power to stop this injustice in our state, we encourage them to do so, " said Max Suchan, Director of Operations for Chicago Community Bond Fund.
The Coalition to End Money Bond includes: A Just Harvest, Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, Chicago Community Bond Fund, Illinois Justice Project, Justice and Witness Ministry of the Chicago Metropolitan Association, Illinois Conference, United Church of Christ, Nehemiah Trinity Rising, The Next Movement, The People's Lobby, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation ( SOUL ), United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations.