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Over a Year After Cook County Bail Reform, Jails Are Still Full

by Dale Chappell

When Cook County, Illinois, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans issued an administrative order in July 2017 telling judges they had to seriously consider whether someone could afford bail, things got better. A lot better. The number of individuals held in jail who couldn’t afford bail dropped by more than half. 

A year later, the jails are once again full of people who cannot pay bail. 

In fact, more than 2,700 people are in Cook County Jail because they cannot afford bail. If judges were following Evans’ order, that number should be near zero. But between November 2017 and June 2018, judges set unaffordable bail for more than 1,350 people.

Things are “worse,” Chicago Community Bond Fund co-executive director Sharlyn Grace said. The problem, she said, is that judges are elected officials, and the “real and imagined” risk of releasing someone who might commit another offense is a career killer for the judges.

Evans’ office acknowledged in an emailed statement that there are about 2,700 people in jail who cannot raise bail but pointed out that 87 percent had violence or weapons-related charges, which requires ‘‘maximum conditions’’ for bail.

In a press release marking the anniversary of the order, Evans’ office highlighted that the number of people released on bond had risen 59 percent. 

Still, the average bail is $80,000 based on calls to the Fund. “The whole idea of affordable money bond doesn’t really work,” Grace said. 



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