On November 17, 2016, the Cook County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing on the use of monetary bond in the Cook County. Specifically, the hearing gathered evidence and testimony on the unconstitutionality of the current practice of detaining people pretrial simply as a result of their inability to pay bond and explored alternatives. The hearing was called for and chaired by Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and featured a powerful panel of people who were formerly detained pretrial in Cook County Jail or in their homes due to electronic monitoring as well as gripping testimony by Alec Karakatsanis of Civil Rights Corps, Professor Cynthia Jones, Dr. Traci Schlesinger, and others. You can watch the entire hearing starting at minute 14 in the linked video.
This post presents highlights from testimonies presented at the hearing and supplemental research and sources for those interested in further investigation.
First, however, some brief context on the problem of pretrial incarceration and other restrictions on liberty. There are currently 7,999 individuals detained in Cook County Jail; 93% are detained pretrial (as in not convicted of any offense); 67% of pretrial detainees have a monetary bond they cannot pay; and 70% of all pretrial detainees are facing charges for non-violent offenses. An additional 2,200 people are on pretrial electronic monitoring, an “ankle monitor” system that results in home confinement and a host of other negative consequences for many.
Secondly, the term “risk” is used throughout the hearing and often in reference to the use of pretrial risk assessment tools. In the pretrial phase, “risk” generally refers to a defendant’s risk of failing to appear in court, risk of committing (or being charged with committing) a new crime, and the particular risk of committing a new violent crime. Cook County is currently using the Arnold Foundation’s Public Safety Assessment tool to evaluate all felony defendants in Central Bond Court. The Chicago Reader published a thoughtful article on the PSA’s promises and limitations last month.
Testimony 1: Sharone Mitchell, Program Director at the Illinois Justice Project
Mr. Mitchell highlighted basic facts regarding the dysfunction of our current system. For example, hearings in bond court last an average of 37 seconds; 93% of the detainees in Cook County Jail are there awaiting a trial; and 63% of the detainees in Cook County Jail are there because they cannot post bond. The practice of detaining people indefinitely because they cannot post bond flouts the purpose of Illinois’s bond statute and likely the U.S. Constitution. As a matter of practice, judges in Cook County do not inquire as to what amount the defendant or his family would actually be able to post. The result is that money, rather than actual safety concerns, has become the driver of who is in jail. Individual bond court judges are further quite inconsistent in both the bonds they set and whether their decisions align with the recommendations of the pretrial risk assessment tool.
Mr. Mitchell also was the first to note what ultimately became a major theme of the hearing: ensuring that reform efforts dramatically reduce pretrial detention in addition to eliminating the use of money bond. Mr. Mitchell described our current structure as one that creates a two separate justice systems: the first, in which an individual is free pretrial and able to fight their case and exercise their rights; and a second, in which an individual is incarcerated pretrial and is consequently coerced into abandoning many rights. In the latter system, incarcerated defendants are many times more likely to plead guilty or be found guilty at trial. Defendants incarcerated pretrial also receive longer sentences. The significant downstream impact of pretrial detention thus makes it a significant driving force in mass incarceration.
Mr. Mitchell referenced this recent study on pretrial detention in Cook County at several points.
Testimony 2: Hon. Truman Morrison, Superior Court Judge, Washington, D.C.
Judge Morrison has served on the bench for 37 years. He noted that D.C. has demonstrated that dysfunctional justice systems can change and that, now, D.C. is unique in that there is not one person in jail pretrial because that person cannot post a monetary bond. D.C. releases approximately 90% of all people arrested. If a defendant is identified as being too risky to release, the person is detained for that reason and not because they cannot post a certain amount of money. 98% of the 90% of defendants released in D.C. return to court and are not rearrested. Of the 2% who are rearrested, it is almost universally for nonviolent offenses. You can review the D.C. Pretrial Service Agency’s performance measures here.
Judge Morrison further noted the incredible level of support for D.C.’s pretrial services system among the judiciary in D.C.: “There is not one outlier judge in my system.”
Commissioner Suffredin asked Judge Morrison about the costs of pretrial supervision, which may be necessary, he argued, in place of detention or monetary bond. Judge Morrison said funding is required to provide pretrial services, but most releases on recognizance do not require many pretrial services or supervision—simple reminders have been shown to work just as well. “[You] don’t need all the bells and whistles,” Judge Morrison noted. In DC, 25% of those released have no supervision whatsoever; in Kentucky, that percentage is even higher. “You are going to have to spend some money, but when you do that, you get rich dividends: major cost savings by not using jail beds.“
Here is a recent Washington Post article discussing Judge Truman and the D.C. system.
Testimony 3: Professor Cynthia Jones, American University Washington College of Law
Professor Jones’s testimony focused on the racial bias that results from the use of monetary bond. Black defendants are the least likely to be released on their own recognizance and also the least likely to be able to pay a monetary bond. Being Black increases the likelihood of being denied bail by 25%. The same figure for Latinos is 24%. Bail should be the great equalizer in a racially discriminatory criminal justice system because it is capable of compensating for differences in class and ability to gain release, but, in fact, the opposite is happening.
Professor Jones relayed a story of public defender representing an African American man in order to note the chasm between what judges may think is reasonable monetary bond versus what defendants and their families can afford. The public defender felt terrific that she had gotten the bail reduced to just $300; however, after going to the family of the defendant, she was told by the grief-stricken grandmother, “Sweetheart, there has never been $300 in this house at one time, ever.”
Professor Jones noted there are two “drivers” that explain the kind of bail system we have now: 1) expediency and 2) the lack of relevant information: “Nobody is checking relevant information on anybody.” Hearings are happening so quickly and with so little investigation that decisions are not well-informed. Secondly, many pretrial services departments are either insufficient or non-existent. Simply collecting telephone contact information for defendants in order to provide text message or call reminders can increase the appearance rate in court up to 90%. Despite proof that such simple and non-monetary steps are as effective or even more effective than monetary bonds, many jurisdictions, like Cook County, continue to rely on them out of habit.
Panel: Gloria Ramirez, Tyler Smith, and Lavette Mayes, People impacted by monetary bond and pretrial restrictions on liberty
(moderated by Chicago Community Bond Fund co-founder and Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice Criminal Justice Fellow, Sharlyn Grace)
All three panelists had recent experience with monetary bond and experienced negative consequences because they could not pay their bond. Gloria Ramirez and Lavette Mayes were incarcerated in Cook County Jail (CCJ), and Tyler Smith was placed on electronic monitoring (EM) and confined to his home. Ms. Ramirez was given a $100,000 D-Bond (requiring payment of $10,000) despite having no prior arrests, being a diabetic, and having caretaking responsibilities for her grandchild who is in her custody. Ms. Ramirez spent several weeks in CCJ before her family was able to take out loans and borrow bond money to get her out. Lavette Mayes was given a $250,000 bond requiring payment of $25,000 despite the fact she also had no prior arrests, was working, and was the primary caretaker for her two children. Ms. Mayes spent 14 months in CCJ before her bond was reduced to $95,000 (requiring $9,500 be posted), and Chicago Community Bond Fund posted her bond.
Tyler Smith, on the other hand, was given a $25,000 D-Bond in lieu of EM, meaning that he had to post $2,500 in order to be removed from an ankle monitor requiring him to stay inside his home at all times unless given permission to leave by the Sheriff’s Office. Mr. Smith was working two jobs at the time of his arrest, including one as a supervisor. He had been the head of his household since his mid-teens and had no prior arrests. Due to the restrictions of EM, however, Mr. Smith lost his job at UPS, and he and his mother almost lost their housing.
Mr. Smith stressed that EM is in many ways as bad as being in jail. He described how could not even go to the grocery story or church without special permission, much less go to job interviews. When Mr. Smith did secure job interviews, he would call the Sheriff’s Office asking for permission to attend the interview. The Sheriff’s deputies then called each potential employer to verify the interview, scaring the employers off and making getting a job virtually impossible.
All three panelists told of horrifying conditions in Cook County Jail that they witnessed while detained pretrial. Ms. Ramirez could not get the food she needed to keep her diabetes under control or regular checks of her blood pressure. The costs of commissary and phone calls were additional financial burdens on families already strapped for resources. Ms. Ramirez also mentioned seeing bugs and rodents in her cell.
Testimony 4: Alec Karakatsanis, Civil Rights Corps
Alec Karakatsanis and the Civil Rights Corps have filed approximately 20 court challenges to the use of monetary bond across 20 jurisdictions, most recently here in Cook County. He noted that there are 450,000 individuals in jail on pretrial detention nationally—people being held in cages while presumed innocent—all without any evidence that it is doing society any good. In fact, the opposite is true: people held in pretrial detention are eventually 40% more likely to commit crimes in the future.
With respect to Cook County, Mr. Karakatsanis noted the large number of “dead days” caused by our current system. Dead days is Sheriff Dart’s name for time spent in Cook County Jail that exceed the length of the sentences imposed when people are finally convicted. Last year, there were 1,024 individuals who spent so much time in custody that once they were sentenced to state prison, they already had served every day of their prison sentence. On average, these individuals served two and a half months of extra time incarcerated.
Mr. Karakatsanis noted two dangers to look out for as Cook County explores alternatives to monetary bail are explored: (1) An overuse of supervision. Some jurisdictions, too fearful to simply let people go based on the research and a verified risk assessment, instead overburden individuals with needless and oppressive supervision that ultimately only ensures their failure and subsequent detention; and (2) An overuse of no-bond detention itself, simply incarcerating the same number of people (many of whom could be safely released) only without the monetary bonds they could not previously pay.
As many of the speakers before him also did, Mr. Karakatsanis noted that Cook County’s ultimate goal must be to reduce pretrial detention through and in combination with the elimination of monetary bail.
You can see Alec Karakatsanis address the American Bar Foundation on the same topics here.
Testimony 5: Amy Campanelli, Cook County Public Defender
As the Public Defender for Cook County, Amy Campanelli focused on the impact of the current system on her impoverished clients. Ms. Campanelli called out the existing lack of transparency in pretrial release decisions, pointing out that judges are hiding detention decisions behind money that defendants cannot pay, saying that if the decision “had integrity,” they would recognize that “a $25,000 Bond is a ‘No Bond’ decision for most of [her] clients.” Ms. Campanelli also noted that electronic monitoring is a form of custody, and that it is not working administratively or as an effective form of release for most of her clients.
Ms. Campanelli explained that the current bond statute has more than 30 criteria for judges to consider in a bond hearing—far too many, in her opinion. The absurdity that judges can consider more than 30 complex factors leads them instead to consider only their own instincts and biases: “When judges consider everything, they consider nothing.”
Finally, Ms. Campanelli noted that there is a built-in bias toward conviction for those who are locked-up pretrial: Only 50% of defendants out on bond are convicted, but 92% of defendants incarcerated pretrial are convicted. “Are you more guilty if you are locked up?,” Ms. Campanelli asked the crowd, “No, of course not.”
Earlier in the day at the press conference preceding the hearing, Ms. Campanelli also emphasized the considerable discretion bond court judges have to issue more I-Bonds under existing law. Barring a significant voluntary shift in judicial behavior, Ms. Campanelli suggested that Cook County has two ways to move forward: either Chief Judge Timothy Evans could issue an order to change the outcomes in bond court, or state legislative change will be needed.
Dr. Traci Schlesinger, Associate Professor of Sociology at DePaul University
Dr. Schlesinger noted a number of things to keep in mind when planning for a system without monetary bond. First, out of any stage in the criminal justice system, the greatest racial discrimination occurs during the pretrial detention stage. Secondly, the impact of this discrimination is not just additive, it is multiplicative, meaning it results in increasing racial disparities as cases progress to resolution and sentencing. At present, all risk assessment instruments rely heavily on the defendant’s criminal record. Therefore, we must design and use risk assessment instruments that do not simply “launder” the racism inherent in previous points of contact with the criminal legal system such as arrests, which are known to be incredibly racially biased.
Secondly, Dr. Schlesinger warned against the use of too much pretrial supervision and even more insidious “pretrial treatment”—particularly if taking place in custody or through involuntary hospitalization. Empirically, it has been established that in-custody treatment is not effective and “treatment” in such a setting does not overcome the great harm of incarceration itself. By locating treatment in a jail or other secure facility, we begin to make destructive decisions under the mistaken assumption that we are helping by locking a person in a cage.
You can read some of Dr. Schlesinger’s work on pretrial release here.
You can watch and listen to the entire 3.5 hour hearing, including public comments, here.
Note: All photos used in this post were taken from Chicago Community Bond Fund’s twitter, @ChiBondFund.