On Monday, Sept. 18, a general order by Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans aimed at stopping judges from setting bonds that people can't pay, went into effect for those charged with felonies. A wide array of community and faith groups, brought together by the Coalition to End Money Bond, were in court to observe the first week of the order's implementation. The results were mixed: In comparison to August, fewer bonds were set at amounts higher than what people said they could afford, but a large number of people were given punitive pre-trial conditions such as electronic monitoring.
"More than 4,000 people are locked up in Cook County Jail only because they are too poor to post bond. When someone has been given a bond, this means the court has already cleared them for release, and the only thing keeping them incarcerated is access to money. For decades, Cook County has been jailing people who haven't been convicted of a crime simply for being poor. The implementation of Chief Judge Evans' General Order is an important first step on the road to ending money bond and pretrial detention in Cook County," said Max Suchan, a co-founder of the Chicago Community Bond Fund
Coalition court watchers reported an uneven start for the first week of the order's implementation. Prior to last week, the average bond hearing in Cook County was around 110 seconds, making this week's 4-minute bond hearings a marked improvement. While judges were spending more time setting bond, however, at least one of the judges in bond court this weekJudge Clancystill set 17 bonds in amounts higher than what people could afford to pay. Later in the week as Judge Lyke took the bench, court watchers reported a pronounced improvement, with most people being given I-bonds or bonds they could afford. On Friday, September 22nd, Judge Lyke set no D-bonds at all, but held at least 9 people without bond. The bond setting practices of four remaining judges in the new Pretrial Division overseeing bond court remain to be seen.
"We were pleased to see at least one of the judges following Judge Evans' order. If judges properly interpret and implement it, we expect the population of Cook County Jail to decrease significantly. While we are happy to see so many people being released on their own recognizance, we are troubled by the increase in punitive pretrial conditions like electronic monitoring and 24 hour curfews," said Sharlyn Grace, a co-founder of the Chicago Community Bond Fund.
In addition to being able to set bond, bond court judges also have the ability to set conditions of pretrial release. These conditions can include home confinement, curfews, and/or drug testing. While these are less extreme than incarceration in jail, we believe such conditions still punish people by restricting their liberty before they've been convicted of a crime. On Friday, Judge Lyke ordered electronic monitoring in at least eight cases where people were given I-bonds and put an additional 13 people on 24-hour curfews despite the recommendation from pretrial services to release a substantial portion of these people with no conditions at all.
Chief Judge Evans' order states that anyone incarcerated because they cannot afford their bond is entitled to a bond review within seven days. Advocates will also be watching preliminary courtrooms this week to see if people who were given bonds they could not pay last week are given the promised review and are released on I-bond or that their bond is reduced to an amount that they can pay.
While most press coverage has focused on the changes happening in central bond court, the biggest question that remains is what will happen to the approximately 4,000 people currently locked up in Cook County Jail on bonds set before September 18th. So far, there has been no indication that a mass review of their bonds will occur.
"Just this week, we posted bond for someone who had been locked up for nearly two months on a $5,000 bond they couldn't pay. Additionally, we received more than 35 calls last week from people who are locked up in Cook County Jail with bonds they can't pay. If Chief Judge Evans is serious about reforming Cook County's bond system, something must be done for the thousands of people being caged at 26th and California simply for being poor," said Matt McLoughlin, a co-founder of the Chicago Community Bond Fund.
The Chicago Community Bond Fund was started in 2015 by a group of activists, attorneys, and community members who've been impacted by Cook County Jail. Since its formation, CCBF has been working to abolish money bond and end pretrial detention. Additionally, CCBF has operated a revolving fund that has helped free 95 people from Cook County Jail or electronic monitoring.