First Group of Defendants Pass Through Drug Field-Testing Program


Included here is the second quarterly report of the program study committee for the pilot drug field testing program created under 50 ILCS 737/1.

The Cook County Pilot Drug Field-Testing Program was brought about to reduce the average time in jail between arrest and preliminary hearing for individuals arrested on drug charges. Advocacy for the project began with Chicago Appleseed’s policy brief in 2013 which led to collaborations with community groups, negotiation with stakeholder agencies, and, ultimately, passage of the law.

Historically in Cook County, those charged with drug possession have had to wait 24 days on average just to get to a preliminary hearing at which a judge determines probable cause. Other cases involving more serious crimes (including crimes of violence) get to their preliminary hearings within 8 to 12 days.

In 2013, judges in Cook County determined that 27 percent of drug possession cases — 6,116 — were not supported by probable cause and dismissed those cases at their preliminary hearings. A substantial portion of these individuals were being held in jail the entire time that they waited for their preliminary hearings at a huge cost to taxpayers.

In 2010, for example, there were 5,000 detainees at the jail each day awaiting preliminary hearings on drug charges.

This quarter has seen the first group of individuals pass through the program, which currently exist in the 6th police district in Chicago.

  • A total of ninety-four (94) individuals have been admitted to custody (for at least 1 day according to Cook County State’s Attorney Office records) subject to a drug field test from the 6th district.
  • The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has directed its Assistant State’s Attorneys to request preliminary hearing dates one week from the time of the bond hearing (which is typically one day after arrest) for those coming in through the pilot program. The ~7 day time to preliminary hearing represents a significant reduction from the current average time to preliminary hearing which is 17 days.
  • Of the 94 individuals admitted to custody under the program, 15 have been in custody long enough to be affected by the shorter time to preliminary hearing (they have had stays of longer than 7 days). The cases of these 15 are either ongoing or resolved at some point after preliminary hearing.
  • 79 of the 94 individuals left custody at some point before their preliminary hearing or other next court date (in case of misdemeanors). These individuals left custody either by posting bond, being given an I-bond (personal recognizance), or being given electronic monitoring.

Questions for the program study committee going forward include how much the 15 positively affected individuals represent a cost-savings for the County, whether the number is deflated due to lower arrest rates, and how many more individuals would be passing through the program if it were expanded city-wide.





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