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.

 

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.