Visitation at Cook County Jail – Part 2

Approximately 100,000 people are admitted into Cook County Jail every year, which maintains an average daily population of about 7,500. When a family member finds out that their loved one has been detained at the jail, their first response may be to attempt to visit as soon as possible. This process can be very challenging to navigate however, and often friends and family encounter setbacks that make gaining and maintaining access to visitation incredibly difficult and sometimes impossible.

To find out more, Cook County Justice Watch spoke to Patty Cloud about her experience with visitation at the jail. Cloud is a member of Progressive Community Church and has been visiting incarcerated members of the church’s congregation since 2011. In the first segment of this series, Patty talked about the process of being cleared for visitation, which involves locating the inmate and being placed on their visitor list, submitting a visitor application and clearing a background check.

 

Here, Patty talks about her experience on visiting day. Cook County Jail is located at 26th Street and California Avenue. While it is accessible by public transportation, the trip can be exhausting, especially for families with small children and elderly visitors. Once visitors arrive, they must wait outside, exposed to the elements, with nowhere to sit. Often, people will wait in line for hours only to find out that they have not been cleared for visitation, or that the division they were planning to visit has been placed on lockdown and will not be receiving visitors that day.

Patty also describes the experience of holding a conversation with an inmate through a metal grate like the ones shown below. These grates prohibit eye contact while speaking, making communication and connection difficult. Patty questions if this kind of restrictive environment is necessary to maintain safety and order in the jail.

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Visitation booths with metal grates to speak through.

In the final segment of this series, we’ll share Patty’s thoughts on how the visitation process might be improved in order to make visits more accessible and beneficial for inmates and their loved ones. If you’ve had experience with visitation at the Cook County Jail, please share your story with us in the comments section below. Subscribe to follow these segments.

Seven Escape From Illinois Jail in Two Days
(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Interview footage shot and produced by Rachel Hoffman. rachelehoffman.com/video/

Interview conducted by Ruby Pinto. 

 

Policy Focus On The State’s Attorney Candidates: Donna More

Donna More, CBS Local
Donna More, CBS Local

The race for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has gained national interest of late due to controversy surrounding the brutal killing of a black teenager by a white police officer followed by an apparent delay by the state’s attorney office to bring charges against the officer.

This particular incident, of course, represents only a small part of a breakdown of trust between criminal justice agencies and communities of color, concerns regarding codes of silence within and between the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Chicago Police Department, and, more broadly, the trends in law enforcement which have resulted in a system of mass incarceration both locally and nationally.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office is in a particularly powerful position not just to prosecute crimes but, with immense influence in Springfield and locally, to set criminal justice policy. It is with this in mind that we at Cook County Justice Watch present the policy goals of each of the candidates for the State’s Attorney and hope to steer the discussion toward the effect their policies may have on communities going forward.

Donna More is a former assistant State’s Attorney under Richard M. Daley and a former federal prosecutor; she has since spent much of her legal career representing casinos and other companies involved in the gaming industry. Her campaign is principally funded by personal wealth, family member donations, followed by companies such as More Sports Management, Universal Gaming Group LLC, and MBR Properties and Management LLC.

What Sets Donna More Apart: Political Stances and Media Focus. Media attention has focused attention on a 2014 contribution made by her to Republican Bruce Rauner’s campaign for governor and pulling a Republican ballot, despite the fact that More is running as a Democrat in this state’s attorney race.

In terms of political stances, More has positioned herself as someone not beholden to vested political interests, attacking the integrity of the office under State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and painting the other challenger, Kim Foxx, former assistant State’s Attorney and former Chief of Staff to County Board President Preckwinkle, as underqualified. Specifically she has criticized Kim Foxx for spending much of her career in the juvenile division of the Cook County State’s Attorney office and attaining supervisory ranks there as opposed to working in the adult felony division where More spent some of her time under, then State’s Attorney, Richard M. Daley. This stance reflects longstanding beliefs within and without of the State’s Attorney’s Office that adult felony cases, particularly involving very serious crimes, define the office more than the juvenile division, which, though dealing with similar crimes at times, often has a more rehabilitative focus.

Below are positions on particular policies. We, in our series on the Cook County State’s Attorney race will include the positions of all the candidates on the following issues which have been most remarked upon by the candidates:

  • Special Prosecutor for Police Shootings: She has opposed the need for a special prosecutor for police shootings. A Special Prosecutor would be an independent prosecutorial office that works apart from the State’s Attorney’s Office and the police department, to insure independence, and would be brought in to investigate and prosecute when police officers are charged with crimes. This would be similar to how prosecutions are carried out when it is a state’s attorney who is charged with a crime. More has instead proposed a unit within the State’s Attorney’s Office that would be dedicated toward prosecuting police officers and reporting directly to herself.
  • Violence: She has called for a gun court to be established and has named ‘gun violence’ as her number one priority. The gun court proposal puts Donna More at odds with many research institutions, including Northwestern’s Bluhm Legal Clinic, the Center for Court Innovation, and results arrived at by the Cook County Violence Prevention, Intervention, and Reduction, all of whom have indicated that gun courts may not be effective at decreasing crime and in their sentencing run counter to current best practices for courts, limiting both individual justice and judicial discretion.
  • Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC): During the recent debate hosted on WBEZ on Thursday, January 28, 2016, Donna More seemed to be previously unaware of CPAC proposals but foreword by several community groups, but seemed willing to support one so long as that council would not decide upon the bringing of criminal charges.
  • Response to Low Level Crimes, Alternatives to Traditional Prosecution and Deferred Prosecution: More has been less vocal on expanding alternatives to prison for low lever crimes as compared with the other candidates, Foxx and State’s Attorney Alvarez, but has suggested that the cost of jailing individuals for cases that will likely be thrown out to be a waste of taxpayer money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Chicago Community Bond Fund Is Taking On Cash Bond One Person at a Time

The Chicago Community Bond Fund Is Taking On Cash Bond One Person at a Time

Part 3 in our series on bond court in Cook County.

Read Part 1: ‘Disrespectful…inattentive and vindictive’ Cook County’s Bond Court.

Read Part 2: Public Defender Amy Campanelli On Reforming Cook County’s Bond Court.

As Public Defender Amy Campanelli continues to push for the necessary reforms to bond court as described in Part 2 of our series, individuals continue to be caught up in unnecessary pre-trial detention simply because they lack the resources to get out. Now, one group of Chicagoans is taking it upon themselves to pay bond for some of the thousands of people in Cook County Jail (CCJ) who have been granted bond but are unable to afford it. The Chicago Community Bond Fund is a new non-profit organization dedicated to ending the use of monetary bond in Illinois, and working to get people out of Cook County Jail in the meantime.

The basic problems with money bond

As has been well-known for a while, and as CCBF itself pointed out in a recent AREA Chicago article, cash bond is not good public safety policy. Despite claims that monetary bond ensures defendants return to court and discourages commission of new crimes, supporting evidence for those claims is weak to non-existent. For example, Washington, D.C. eliminated use of monetary bond decades ago, and instead established a Pretrial Services Agency (PSA) that uses risk assessment to make release decisions. Once released, defendants are supported by services that further increase their chances of succeeding while awaiting trial. A 2013 BJA funded study of unsecured bonds by the Pretrial Justice Institute found that unsecured bonds are as effective as secured bonds at both ensuring court appearance and achieving public safety goals such as avoiding re-arrest.

Though the benefits of using monetary bond are hard to confirm, the harms of pretrial detention are obvious and well-documented. People who are incarcerated simply because they cannot pay an often arbitrary amount of money may lose their jobs, housing, and even custody of their children. Family and community connections are damaged, the defendant is less able to participate in their own defense, and the chances of being convicted increase. Detained defendants who are convicted also receive significantly longer sentences than defendants who were not detained pretrial. Each one of these outcomes further decreases the defendant’s chances of future success and increases recidivism. In a review of over 150,000 criminal cases in Kentucky, the Arnold Foundation found that defendants who are detained “are over four times more likely to be sentenced to jail and over three times more likely to be sentenced to prison than defendants who are released at some point pending trial.” Perhaps the most compelling result of studying the impact of pretrial detention is the fact that when low- and moderate-risk defendants are detained even a few days, the odds of recidivation significantly increase. (Source.)

Non-financial conditional release, based on the history, characteristics, and reliability of the defendant, is more effective than financial release conditions. Reliance on money bail discriminates against indigent defendants and cannot effectively address the need for release conditions that protect the public. Pro-social interventions that address substance disorders, employment, housing, medical, educational, and mental health issues afford defendants the opportunity for personal improvement and decrease the likelihood of criminal behavior.”Guiding Principles of the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia

Who is in Cook County Jail?

Cook County Jail is no outlier by national standards. Frequently referred to as the largest single-site jail in the country, CCJ has around 70,000 admission every year. Like most jails, the vast majority of CCJ’s population is pre-trial. In early October 2015, fully 95% of CCJ inmates were awaiting trial. The vast majority of those behind bars were technically eligible for bond as set by a judge but were simply unable to afford it. In fact, over 150 of the nearly 9,000 people incarcerated in CCJ at that time needed to post only $500 or less in bond in order to be released. Also like most jails, CCJ is disproportionately Black. Despite the fact that only 24% of Cook County residents are African American, CCJ’s population was 73% Black in October 2015.

Introducing the Bond Fund

Chicago Community Bond Fund’s mission is, quite simply, to help people get out of CCJ. Growing out of a grassroots effort to bond out five activists arrested at an August 2014 community vigil for Desean Pittman, CCBF has now set its sights on less obviously political pretrial detainees. The group of activists, attorneys, and community members has established a revolving bond fund that will pay bond for people who simply cannot pay it themselves. In their words, “paying bond …  restores the presumption of innocence before trial and enables recipients to remain free while fighting their cases.” CCBF also plans to conduct teach-ins and other public education “about the role of bond in the criminal legal system and [advocate] for the abolition of money bond.”

Watch the short video below to hear CCBF co-founder Jeanette Wince speaking at the launch party on November 21, 2015. Jeanette begins by discussing how she and other family members raised bond money for those arrested in August 2014 by throwing house parties and holding raffles.

 

So far, CCBF has been focused on creating organizational structure and establishing guidelines for operation. Nevertheless, the group has found time to continue supporting broader causes of criminal justice reform and racial justice. After the release of the video showing a Chicago police officer shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times on November 24th, CCBF quickly established a bond fund for protesters who took to the street demanding justice and accountability. Now, CCBF has joined a coalition of groups to raise money to post bond for Naomi Freeman, a young Black mother in Cook County Jail after killing her abusive partner.

CCBF’s Adventures Posting Bond

On December 3rd, CCBF posted bond for their first client, and their experience reveals a lot about the hurdles ordinary Chicagoans face when trying to post bond for a loved one. Two CCBF members, Max and Ash, headed to Cook County Jail around 2pm on an ordinary Thursday. When Ash attempted to post bond, he was told that CCBF’s client, R., was serving a sentence and thus could not be bonded out. When Ash tried to ask questions, knowing that R. had not yet been sentenced, he was given no further information. The clerk merely repeated the same thing multiple times, and conveyed to Ash that R. would be released when her sentence was over in March 2016.

After calling R’s attorney and confirming that she had not yet been sentenced and was, in fact, eligible for bond, Max and Ash tried to figure out why the system was reporting an incorrect status. By chance, Max saw someone from the public defender’s office who he knew from when he interned there as a law student. That person was able to contact her supervisor in the public defender’s office, who in turn contacted a supervisor over in the bond posting office. Eventually, a little over an hour later, the county employees were changing shifts, so Ash sat in the office for 30 minutes while the shift change took place. After two more system errors and separate 15-20 minute delays, Ash was finally able to post bond around 5pm, and R. finally walked out of CCJ nearly 4 hours later (approximately 7 hours after Ash first tried to post bond). He noted that as a non-attorney with no special access to supervisors or court records, he would never have been able to correct the system error that reported R’s status as sentenced instead of pre-trial. During his time in the waiting room, Ash saw several people turned away from posting bond entirely and delayed due to system errors. As is unfortunately often the case in Cook County, it was only as a result of special access and connectionsand those mostly the result of Max’s status as an attorneythat Max and Ash were eventually able to post R.’s bond.

You can read more about CCBF’s client R and their other recent news in their newsletter.

 

The Campaign to Fire CPD Detective Dante Servin

The editors of Cook County Justice Watch feel it is important to present information on community organizing efforts in Cook County. This post highlights the work being done in the Movement for Black Lives with the #SayHerName initiative in Chicago. Movements like these often create necessary pressure to move policy and change the way that justice is delivered.

On March 21, 2012, Rekia Boyd was fatally shot by off-duty Chicago police detective Dante Servin. She was 22 years old. The shooting took place in the early morning hours in Douglas Park, a neighborhood on Chicago’s west side, when Servin fired multiple shots from an unregistered 9mm semiautomatic firearm over his shoulder into a crowd of people. When questioned, Servin claimed that he mistook a cellphone in a man’s hand for a gun. Witnesses say he appeared to be drunk at the time of the shooting.

In November 2013, Servin was charged with involuntary manslaughter, a charge determined by Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. All charges were dismissed by Judge Dennis J. Porter, who ruled that because the shooting was intentional, Servin could not be charged with recklessness. “It is intentional and the crime, if any there be, is first-degree murder,” said Porter in his ruling. This directed verdict essentially meant that Servin was found not guilty, and returned to his job with the Chicago Police Department where he remains employed.

Upon delivery of the verdict, individuals from multiple organizations came together to support Boyd’s family and organize to have Dante Servin fired without a pension. They also shared a goal of keeping Rekia’s name alive. The #SayHerName initiative is deeply rooted in the campaign for justice for Rekia.

Since May of 2015, social justice advocates have attended monthly meetings of the Chicago Police Board, delivering testimony urging Superintendent Garry McCarthy and the CPD board to fire Dante Servin and end police brutality in Chicago. Cook County Justice Watch contributor Ruby Pinto spoke to two young organizers with BYP 100, an organization that has taken the lead on organizing turnout for monthly board meetings. She also spoke to Rekia’s brother, Martinez Sutton, who regularly attends CPD board meeting as well as actions against police brutality throughout the city.

In September, Chicago’s Independent Police Review Board recommended that Servin be removed from the Chicago police force, due to violation of CPD’s deadly force policy, failure to qualify with the weapon he fired that night and delivery of inconsistent statements to detectives, the State’s Attorney’s Office and IPRA.

Superintendent McCarthy must deliver a his decision within 90 days  of the IPRA recommendation and has stated that he will deliver a decision before the deadline. The next CPD board meeting will take place this coming Thursday, November 19th at 7:30 pm. CPD headquarters are located at 3510 S Michigan Avenue. A crowd of community members is expected to gather at 7 pm to fill the boardroom and deliver testimony.

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Martinez Sutton at a Vigil for Rekia at Depaul (5/12/15) – photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

 

 

 

Public Defender Amy Campanelli On Reforming Cook County’s Bond Court

The following is a transcript of a speech delivered by Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli at the Collaborative on Reentry. In the speech, she addresses reforms currently underway in Cook County’s Bond Court and proposals for further improvements.

Speech by Cook County Public Defender regarding Collaborative on Reentry

I would like to thank the members of the Collaborative on Reentry, as well as Esther Franco Payne from the Illinois Justice Project for inviting me to speak today.

On the issue of race, which Professor Stone so elegantly highlighted, it is an issue in the criminal justice system. I want to tell you about two cases that just came through bond court. Two young men, both charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault. The first was a white male and a student at DePaul. He was accused of having sex with someone who was mentally deficient and could not give consent. The second was a black male. He was charged with sex by use of force. Bond for the white male was set at $50,000. Bond for the black male was set at half-a-million. Whether you think the bond should be higher or lower, the disparity is outrageous.

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Nowhere do we see an overreliance on the jail for incarceration more than in bond court. We must reduce that overreliance. Clients who remain in custody pretrial are much more likely to go to prison than those on pretrial release. That said, things have been improving, but there is much more to do.

Our Bond Court initiative began in the Fall of 2012. At that time, the jail regularly had a population of over 10,000 detainees. Now the population is in the 8000 range. The success of the project is due to the support and resources given to us by President Preckwinkle and the Justice Advisory Council. Through efforts of the Council, we received a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to hire caseworkers to help my bond court attorneys. Their work is essential, as I will explain in a moment.

The Council and Supreme Court Justice Ann Burke have also assisted in other ways. Before the initiative began, we had to conduct new client interviews between the bars of the bullpen behind the bond court room. When the Sheriff received custody of a person from the Chicago or suburban police departments for bond court, he was marked with a number on his hand. Before the reforms took place our interviewers would go up to the bars and yell out a number to summon our new clients for an interview. Prior to these interviews we would not have a name, arrest report, or complaint for our new clients.

Things are greatly improved because of the collaboration of all the stakeholders, the President, the MacArthur Foundation and the Supreme Court. On the lower level of Division 5 of the jail, we now have a large private room where interviews are conducted. There are ten private cubicles for the interviews. We now receive all the Chicago Police Arrest Reports for our new clients. We also receive the complaints and the criminal history background. We now have six Safer Foundation caseworkers, provided to us by MacArthur grant money and the Justice Advisory Council, who conduct intake interviews with our new clients to identify and verify background information to present to the court in order to help us secure a reasonable bond. The caseworkers also speak with family members and give them an information sheet explaining the bond court process. That sheet is on your table today.

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Also assisting us with the interviews are counselors from the Thresholds Foundation. Two counselors are in our interview area every day. If a new client reports a history of mental illness, the client is referred to the Thresholds counselor for an interview and evaluation. If the client is released from custody on an I-Bond, EM or by posting money, Thresholds will co-ordinate out-patient treatment. If the client does not get released, Thresholds stays in contact with the client to begin treatment if the client does get discharged from the jail back into the community when the case is resolved.

A wonderful success story of our program is the case of a 17-year-old named Marcello. In 2013, he was arrested for stealing three cell phones. He was initially held on a $300,000 bond. My office filed a second chance bond motion. The bond was lowered to $10,000; the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls posted the $1,000 needed for his release. Because he was released, he returned to the Mercy Home and received support. Their support led to his enrollment in college at DePaul University. Three of my attorneys gathered together all his mitigation evidence, brought representatives of Mercy Home to court, and showed the prosecution that this young boy epitomized a story of success. An agreement was reached for misdemeanor probation. This success story, however, depended on his receiving a reasonable bond so that he could reenter the community while he waited for his trial.

A new drug deferred prosecution program has begun in the Central Bond Court here in Cook County for minor drug possession cases. My clients who accept the program are immediately released on an I-bond and are linked with a case manager from TASC (the Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities). The TASC case manager will refer my clients to designated service providers based on an initial assessment of my client’s needs.

In addition, bond court is using a new risk assessment tool. The two major factors for a judge to consider are the seriousness of the offense and the likely flight risk of the person. This tool has been in place only for a few months, and its effectiveness in setting a proper bond, as well as how it will affect the number of people held in jail, is still uncertain, but I am hopeful this tool will lead to fair and reasonable bonds.

Despite these improvements, problems remain. Over 70% of our new clients in central bond court are charged with nonviolent offenses. Narcotics offenses are a large portion of new charges. There are also a significant number of property crimes, ranging from burglaries to felony retail theft. Many clients also indicate that they have suffered through the years with mental illness, drug addiction or both.

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In my judgment, none of these people should be held in custody on unrealistic bonds while they are waiting for their trial. My clients cannot even scrape together $100 for bond. Community based support must be available to my clients while they are on pretrial release.

This is not a new proposal. Judge Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of New York, has championed the reform of taking money out of the bail process entirely. First, if a judge at a bond hearing determines that an arrestee is safe enough to release on ‘bond,’ that means the judge has determined he is not a threat to public safety. Incarceration because of the inability to pay a monetary bond is nothing more than turning the jail into a pauper’s prison. Second, by taking money out of the process, it eliminates the push for those in jail to plead guilty just so they can get out of the Cook County Jail, even if they are innocent of the charges.

I would like to reiterate the conclusions that were recently expressed in an article on this subject in the New York Times. The long-term damage that bail inflicts on vulnerable detainees extends well beyond incarceration. Disappearing into the machinery of the justice system separates family members, interrupts work and jeopardizes housing. People in the throes of poverty don’t have the luxury of missing their job for even one day. People in need of caretaking, such as the elderly and the young, are left without caretakers. People who live in shelters may lose their housing. People with immigration concerns are quicker to be put on the immigration radar. So when our clients have bail set that they cannot make, they suffer on the inside, they worry about what’s happening on the outside, and when they get out, the world has become a lot more difficult. Thank you.

Upcoming Interview Series: Chicago Votes

Our partners at Soapbox Productions and Organizing have teamed up with Chicago Votes staff to tell the story of what it’s like to grow up in an over-policed neighborhood in Chicago. These young organizers shared their perspectives on police accountability, our public school system, community safety, Black Lives Matter, and why they’ve chosen to work toward getting young people registered to vote and involved in politics. They also shared some spoken word pieces, providing a look at how young people express themselves through art.

During National Voter Registration Day, Chicago Votes registered over 1000 people on college campuses across the city. It will be interesting to see what impact the youth vote will have on crucial races to the administration of justice. Both Cook County States Attorney and Illinois State Senate elections will take place on March 15th, 2016.  In 2012, 35.2% of registered voters ages 18-24 voted in the general election.

The complete footage is set to debut in the coming weeks, but for now please enjoy this sneak peek. Stay tuned for updates on this exciting partnership.

State’s Attorney Program Denies Probable Cause Hearings To Low Level Offenders And Extends Court Supervision

Cook County’s Deferred Prosecution Program has been on display recently. At symposia and public presentations locally and nationwide, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has presented the program as a success and as a keystone feature of a smart-on-crime, evidence-based approach to prosecution. However, recent studies of the program dispute its efficacy and seriously call into question the ethics of how the program is structured. It is critical that this program be scrutinized before its rapid expansion this September.

Far from being a source of diversion from the criminal justice system, the Deferred Prosecution program further entangles first-time offenders in the criminal justice system whose cases had a substantial likelihood of being dismissed had their case ever been allowed to go before a judge. The program approaches low-level first-time offenders at a vulnerable time when they’ve recently been in jail and have had no real chance to speak to a defense attorney, and it asks them to waive any probable cause hearing in exchange for a 12-month term of court supervision. In essence, it avoids judicial oversight and treats the accused as guilty in the name of diversion.

Denying Probable Cause Hearings

Throughout Cook County—and the nation overall—there are several types of programs that present alternatives to the standard criminal justice system for those who would have better results from lighter levels of intervention or from programs that guide individuals through drug or mental health treatment. These programs, such as specialty Drug or Mental Health Courts are popular throughout the country and the scholarship around them and their procedures grow year by year. Specialty Courts are typically offered to individuals after they plead guilty, following a determination of probable cause of their case and a discussion with their attorney about the costs and benefits of accepting the program.

The Cook County Deferred Prosecution program, however, does not wait until after a defendant has been given their probable cause hearing. In fact it offers the program before their probable cause hearing on the explicit condition that the defendant will waive their right to that hearing.

The program consists of a year’s worth of court supervision offered to individuals who have no history of violent arrests and no previous felony convictions. If they succeed, the case is dropped and expunged. If they fail, prosecution proceeds but the original probable cause hearing never happens. At the point the defendant is presented with the offer of the program, they have not had time to discuss the likelihood of their case’s dismissal and or have any real input from a defense attorney—typically a public defender who they have not met before. This means that the only person who has exercised any judgment about the case before the defendant is placed under a year’s worth of court supervision, is the arresting officer.

The risk of individuals being placed under this penalty while not having probable cause is substantial. 47% of nonviolent drug possession charges are dismissed at preliminary hearing, meaning there is a nearly a fifty fifty chance that individuals who have been offered deferred prosecution on these charges would have not been in the adult system any longer – at no further cost to the tax payer – if the state’s attorney’s office had allowed their case simply to go to preliminary hearing before going to trial.

Study Shows No Benefit 

A recent study of the Cook County Deferred Prosecution Program done by Loyola University in conjunction with the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority found no different in the re-arrest rates of those in the program versus a comparison group of individuals who met the deferred prosecution program eligibility criteria but were instead sentenced to probation (31.4% and 34.6% were re-arrested within 18 months of completing their form of court supervision, respectively). And this does not take into account that many of those who were placed into the Deferred Prosecution program would have been dismissed at preliminary hearing anyway, which would have cost far less to the tax payer, not to mention the individual going through the program.

(George, Orwat, Stemen, Hilvers, Cossyleon, & Chong, Evaluation of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office Deferred Prosecution Program, May 13, 2015, Presentation).

Targeting the Least Experienced and Most Vulnerable Population

The last 25 years of empirical research on behavior management and alternative sentencing programs has determined that the level of criminal justice intervention should be matched to the level of risk and need of the individual Mismatches result in higher rates of recidivism and worse outcomes for communities. This means that those who are at the lowest risk of re-offending on their own are better off having little to no interaction with the criminal justice system: incarceration or challenging court supervision only increases their chances for offending. Likewise, the level of drug or mental health treatment services that are offered to individuals should match their actual level of clinical need: connecting people who do not have serious drug dependence issues with seriously addicted groups of heroin addicts, for example, hurts the sobriety of both groups.

The deferred prosecution program specifically targets this low risk, low need population and matches them with a level of intervention that is likely more intense than is appropriate. Only those individuals with no prior felony convictions, and no arrests for violent crimes, are offered the deferred prosecution program—a program no likelier to result in reduced recidivism than straight dismissal, and at a much higher cost to taxpayers.

In the September 2015 the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office is planning on greatly expand this program to target individuals with more than one drug possession conviction in their history, with the aim of connecting these individuals to drug treatment, but no plan has been put forward to ensure that the individuals being referred actually have drug dependence issues aside from what little can be learned from their current charge.

No risk or needs assessments are used (like those that are used for specialty courts following best practices) before deciding upon the current program. Rather, the level of intervention is based solely on the defendant’s criminal history – a measure that has been repudiated by researchers, including National Drug Court Institute.

Racial Disparity Concerns for State’s Attorney Alvarez’ New Policy and Other Avenues of Reform

On Monday, April 20, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced three changes in the way her office responds to drug crime. These changes, though neutral on their face, pose a great risk of increasing racial disparity in an already deeply unfair system. Below, we outline her new policy, our questions and concerns, and current pushes for decriminalization happening at the state level in Illinois.

State Attorney Alvarez’ new policy on drug crime:

  • Her office will no longer prosecute misdemeanor possession of marijuana under 30 grams for those who have had 2 or fewer citations or arrests on the matter beforehand;
  • All offenders charged with Class 4 felony possession of a controlled substance or possession of cannabis, except for those with significant violence in their criminal backgrounds, will be routed to an alternative prosecution program including the newly created Drug Deferred Prosecution Program (DDPP). These would include individuals possessing substances other than cannabis, such as heroin, cocaine, etc.
  • And the State’s Attorney’s Office will formalize an ongoing policy of not proceeding with charges against juvenile offenders for the possession of under 30 grams of cannabis and those who have fewer than three arrests or police contacts for similar charges. Instead, the State’s Attorney’s Office promises to work with the Chicago Police Department and community-based organizations to create and implement a juvenile-specific version of Seattle’s successful Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, program.

These new policies come at a time of growing national awareness that responding to drug possession as a criminal rather than a public health problem is failed policy. Current practices have led to overcrowded prisons and jails, wasted resources that should be used toward higher enforcement priorities, lives impaired by a criminal record, and deepened racial divisions.

However, up until now, attempts at correcting this failed policy have only worsened racial disparities. . In 2012, the Chicago City Council decriminalized low levels of marijuana possession by issuing fines rather than criminal penalties.   But under existing state law, police can still issue arrests rather than tickets for such offenses, and, as noted in a report of Roosevelt University’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, do so in the vast majority of cases. Furthermore, when the decision is made to arrest or issue a fine, it is made predominantly along racial lines. In short, Black Chicagoans have not seen the reduction in arrests that White Chicagoans have.

Concerns About Racial Disparity Under Alvarez’s New Policy

In Chicago, blacks make up only 33% of the population, and yet, 73 % of all arrests are of black people. More arrests lead to more prosecutions despite the fact that blacks and whites use illegal drugs at the same rate. Disproportionate contact with police and prosecutors based on race presents such a stark contrast, that you would think anyone suggesting policy changes would proceed with caution. (Tables on Arrests and Population by Race are included at the bottom of this post, with sources).

Now, the Cook County States’ Attorney has actually suggested decreasing certain penalties for the possession of marijuana in a manner that may further increase disproportionality. She says that when we look for people whose cases should be dismissed or ought to be offered treatment (the new marijuana and juvenile program proposals, respectively), we should look at how often they have been arrested. Thus automatically treatment and dismissal will be offered less often to Blacks and Latinos who on the whole get arrested more often despite similar rates of drug use. Though the number of arrests of Blacks and Latinos will go down the racial disparity between people of color and whites stands to widen. As whites are disproportionately offered treatment and dismissal, the prosecution of Blacks disproportionately increases. Thus a set of terrible outcomes stands to get worse.

We would ask the State’s Attorneys what the expected populations, by race, are expected to be affected by these new policies? And what systems are being put into place to ensure individuals being offered treatment are actually being clinically assessed for their need and being offered the right level of services?

State Level Decriminalization Is Moving Forward

State law may soon change. House Bill 218, introduced by State Representative Cassidy, (D- Chicago) has just passed the Illinois House and has passed the Criminal Law Committee of the Senate. It calls for replacing criminal penalties with civil fines for low level marijuana possession. The proposed legislation has a broad base of support, including the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, and the Office of Cook County State Sheriff Tom Dart.

Change begets tough questions and challenges. How will the Chicago Police Department respond to state, not just city, decriminalization of marijuana? Treatment and education services are already in short supply. Where will funding for the services to support alternatives to incarceration come from?  Can ways be found for units of government to collaborate in identifying and allocating the services that do exist? How will they insure that treatment goes to those who need it most?

It is promising that the Cook County State’s Attorney is citing the LEAD models of Seattle and Santa Fe. The first full-scale evaluation of LEAD, released last week by the University of Washington, found that that services rather than prison have helped to break the cycle of addiction, joblessness, and homelessness for program participants and reduced recidivism by nearly 60%. LEAD has established a national model for collaboration among law enforcement, human service agencies, and community organizations. The task now is effective implementation of such policies here.

Tables on Disproportionate Impact

2013 Census Bureau Population Estimate – City of Chicago

Total          2,719,000
Black              894,000 33%
Non-Black          1,824,000 67%

Source: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/17/1714000.html

Street Stops by Race – City of Chicago (four month sample)

Stops % Stops Per 1000
Total 251,000   94
Black 181,000 72% 205
Non-Black 70,000 28% 39

Analysis of four month period May through August 2014

Source: ACLU-IL http://www.aclu-il.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/ACLU_StopandFrisk_6.pdf

2014 Arrests by Race – Chicago Police Department

  Arrests % Arrests per 1000
Total          129,000 48
Black            94,000 73% 106
Non-Black            35,000 27% 19

Source: Chicago Police Department

For comparison, the estimated arrest rate for the United States in 2012 was 39 arrests per 1,000 residents.

Source: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2012/crime-in-the-u.s.-2012/persons-arrested/persons-arrested

2014 Cook County Jail Population

  Admissions % Admissions per 1000
Total 65,129 12
Black            43,000 65% 33
Non-Black           23,000 35% 6

Source: Cook County Sheriff

African Americans make up 25% of Cook County’s 5.2 million residents

Individuals from the City of Chicago comprised 63% of jail admissions

 

A Letter to the Editor of The Chicago Sun Times : Sheriff Tom Dart’s Administrative Release Program

The following is a letter to the editor of the Chicago Sun Times regarding an article entitled Dart Wants Candy Thieves, Other Shoplifters and Trespassers Out Of His Jail.

On March 10th, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart made a visit to Springfield to propose legislation requiring that judges dispose of shoplifting and trespassing cases within a month of an arrest or release the defendants on a non-cash bond or electronic monitoring until their trials. Since then he’s been in the media, including a nearly 20-minute spot on the Anderson Cooper 360, talking about issues with the Cook County justice system. It is refreshing to see the Sheriff moving to change the process in which low-level nonviolent cases are handled. The fact that so many individuals are held in jail simply because they cannot afford bail has been a point of tension for years in communities who are most affected by these practices. A city-wide grassroots movement called DecarcerateChi has been building around the demand that all individuals accused of nonviolent crimes be released without bail.

A protest organized by DecarcerateChi at the Cook County Administrative Building
A direct action organized by DecarcerateChi at the Cook County Administrative Building

It went unmentioned, however, that the Sheriff has the ability to release up to 1500 individuals from the jail under the Administrative Release Program approved in 2011, allowing for non-violent pretrial detainees with no history of violent offenses to be released on non-cash bonds or electronic monitoring. This order was intended to ease overcrowding of the jail, which is currently not overcrowded by definition. However a large influx of arrests or parole violations could flood the jail at any time. Currently Sheriff Dart has only released a total of 57 men and 28 women under this order. If he is concerned about people who do not belong in the jail taking up space there, why won’t he use this power to dramatically reduce the number of non-violent cases awaiting trial behind bars?

As for the proposed legislation, Sheriff Dart is on the right track, but while incremental policy changes may help to reduce jail population and save tax dollars in the short term, much more thorough revision needs to occur, including cooperation and a commitment to reduce jail population from all stakeholders including state’s attorney Anita Alvarez, whose office determines charges brought and therefore feeds the jail population.

Ruby Pinto is a leader with SOUL and a contributor to Cook County Justice Watch

A Letter to the Editor of The Chicago Sun Times

A recent Sun Times editorial shed some much-needed light on the fact that in Cook County, individuals accused of non-violent crimes often spend extended amounts of time behind bars after their initial court appearance simply because they cannot afford bail. The piece highlights statistics that link pre-trial detention to harsher sentencing, as well as the high cost of incarcerating low-risk defendants rather than allowing them to await trial at home. An alternative in-or-out system used in other parts of the nation is also briefly introduced.

The editorial stopped short, however, of covering the process in which this system is already being reformed. Efforts that have been made by the supreme court, county employees, community organizations and other advocates to push for bond court reform were completely ignored. Because of the ongoing effort made by these individuals and groups, some of which are covered in this piece published by the Red Eye, approximately 50% of defendants are currently sent home on I-bonds or electronic monitoring, up from 21% in 2011. This increase is the result of better pretrial services that allow judges to make more informed decisions, as well as an increase in the use of electronic monitoring and the number of I-bonds granted. Other initiatives, such as eliminating the automatic transfer of minors to adult court and preventing the implementation of mandatory minimum laws are currently underway to further ease overincarceration.

Image by Cook County
Image by Cook County

The Sun Times article does focus on one decision maker: newly appointed Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner. Governor Rauner’s administration is said to be laying “the groundwork for reforms that will make our criminal justice system fairer and more cost-effective.” But what does that groundwork look like, and how will it work? Rauner has the ability to make some initial executive orders that will get the process started. Ali Abid, the Criminal Justice Policy Analyst at Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, says parole violations are an obvious first step.

“Currently approximately 700 people being held in the Cook County Jail are there for technical violations of parole, just waiting to be transferred back to the Illinois Department Of Corrections. Due to the relatively unserious nature of most of their violations they would likely be re-released from prison soon after being reprocessed. But until that happens they are stuck in limbo, in the Cook County Jail, with county taxpayers paying the bill. It is within Governor Rauner’s power to release or remove these individuals and, moreover, work to revamp the state’s parole system.” – Ali Abid, Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice

Once parole violations are addressed, the governor might further consider the wide scope of his executive abilities. “Governor Rauner should look at his powers broadly in examining what can be done to reduce the state prison and local jail populations,” says Abid.

This issue has been in the hearts and minds of families, young people and clergy for quite some time. At the grassroots level, hundreds of Cook County residents have been organizing around and educating the public on bail/bond reform in recent years. DecarcerateCHI is a task force working with Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL) that has targeted State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, calling on her to be a leader in reform of bond court and to take on a much stronger role in addressing and eliminating racial disparity that appears throughout the criminal justice system. Tristan Bock-Hughes, a second-year Public Policy student at University of Chicago, is a leader with DecarcerateCHI. He places a high emphasis on the importance of community input and availability of elected officials to their constituents.

Image by DecarcerateCHI
Image by DecarcerateCHI

“The DecarcerateCHI campaign has been working for over a year to achieve the exact kinds of pre-trial reforms to the Cook County system this Sun Times Article suggests. Yet Anita Alvarez has been less than open to even communicating with policy experts and community organizers,” says Bock-Hughes. “It is shameful that organizations like Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, the Indiana Illinois Regional Organizing Network, and Organizing Catholics for Justice had to send months worth of letters, emails, and calls before finally staging multiple protests just to meet with her once. Governor Rauner must learn from the mistakes of politicians like Anita Alvarez and actually meet with the experts that work in these systems day in and day out if any reform is going to be achieved.”

A truly successful reform of the deeply flawed criminal justice system in Cook County and statewide will be one that combines efforts being made on all fronts from executive to grass-roots, and takes into account the needs of communities, taxpayers and those who have been incarcerated and will be impacted most by reform or lack there of.

Ruby Pinto is a leader with SOUL and a contributor to Cook County Justice Watch