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.
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.
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.
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.