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.

ct-defender-cook-met-jpg-20150310

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.

ct-ct-amy-campanelli-09-jpg-20151022

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.

Amy Campanelli_2015-8x10color-1_0

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.

Advertisements

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

Selecting a New Cook County Public Defender : The Process

On March 31, 2015, Abishi Cunningham’s six-year term as Public Defender for Cook County will end. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has elected to replace Cunningham with a new public defender. This choice is a critical one for the immediate future of criminal justice in Cook County. The Cook County Public Defender’s Office comprises nearly 750 staff members, including 550 attorneys who represent defendants in the grand majority of criminal cases in the county.

Though the selection of a public defender is entirely within the authority of the County Board President, after the appointment the position is highly independent. With this one appointment, the policy goals and management style for the government body that most directly represents the accused will be set for six years.

Due to the importance of this appointment and the lack of information available elsewhere on the process behind it, we at Cook County Justice Watch are describing the process here to better inform the public. This blog entry will describe the search process currently underway for the new Cook County P.D. The search is proceeding in three stages: (1) identifying prospective candidates, (2) review committee interviews; and (3) the President’s final selection and board approval.

Image Randy von Liski
Image Randy von Liski

Identifying Prospective Candidates

In December 2014 President Preckwinkle sent letters out to the six Chicago-area law schools, three local bar associations, and the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, inviting them to submit up to three names each to be considered by the President’s Review Committee.

The law schools included the University of Chicago Law School, the Northwestern University Law School, the John Marshall Law School, Chicago-Kent Law School, the Loyola University School of Law, and the DePaul University Law School. The three bar association are the Chicago Council of Lawyers, the Cook County Bar Association, and the Chicago Bar Association.

My own organization, Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, has been selected to collect recommendations from the social justice research policy community, including First Defense Legal Aid, Cabrini Green Legal Services, and Lawndale Christian Legal Services, and to narrow these recommendations down to three names.

These names—along with the résumés and an indication of the willingness of the individuals to be interviewed—are due to President Preckwinkle’s office by January 26, 2015.

process

The Review Committee

The next step is the President’s review committee. The review committee will take up to twelve names sent to them and conduct interviews to reduce the final list of recommendations to three.

The Review committee is chaired by Judge Joy Cunningham (no relation to Public Defender Cunningham), and comprises the following individuals:

  • Edwin Reyes, a former Chicago Police Officer and Board Commissioner,
  • Jeffrey Urdangen, clinical professor at the Northwestern School of Law and an established leader in the defense bar,
  • Diane Williams, the retired CEO of the Safer Foundation whose experience as a crime victim motivated her to make a career in reforming the rehabilitative opportunities presented to defendants, and
  • Patrick Covington, an ex-offender and a strong member of the alumni association of one of the County’s rehabilitative drug treatment programs.
  • Judge Rhoda Sweeney (ret.) is also on the committee as an alternate.

800px-Wayne_County_Courthouse_Nebraska_courtroom_2-1

President’s Final Selection and Board Approval

The review committee must conclude its interview process and submit a final list of the three names to President Preckwinkle toward the end of February or the beginning of March. At this point President Preckwinkle will work toward getting the candidate approved by the Cook County Board at their mid-March meeting.

As the President, the review committee, and the various organizations do their work over the next two months they should keep in mind the various challenges that any qualified candidate for the position of Public Defender in Cook County has to be able to tackle. First, the new Public Defender has to be active in pushing forward reforms in the fast-changing world of criminal justice nationwide. Public Defenders have a key role to play in ensuring that racial and wealth disparities are addressed in the system, that judges, state’s attorneys, and law enforcement officers are respecting the rights of the accused, and that new case management and treatment opportunities are being effectively and correctly administered to their clients. Second, the Public Defender has to be able to effectively manage a large governmental office with a unionized workforce and be able to work collaboratively with other governmental departments and agencies in a county known for its tense interdepartmental politics.

The dates for the selection process are approaching quickly and we will be following this process closely.

Ali Abid is the Criminal Justice Policy Analyst with Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice

Targeting Automatic Transfers: President Preckwinkle Aims at Addressing Racial Disparity in the Cook County Justice System

What does it mean to Ruby Pinto that prosecutors instead of judges decide which kids are tried as adults?  “It’s a system that targets the poor and especially people of color for harsher sentencing. We need to start looking at the person that enters the courtroom, not just the crime they’ve been accused of. Especially in the case of young people, a blanket policy that gives power to an interested party is not a smart approach.”

Ruby is a community leader from the South Side grassroots organization SOUL.  On December 12, she and others from across Cook County filled the board room to hear how the Cook County Board President was answering the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper Challenge.

Image by Cook County
Image by Cook County

“At the heart of the President’s message is the need to keep young black and brown boys and men in school and on track to complete high school and postsecondary education and training.” Preckwinkle stated at the beginning of her My Brother’s Keeper Summit.  She continued, “We answered the President’s call to action. We are determined to end unfair laws that prevent young boys and men of color from reaching their educational and professional potential. We want to start by ending the automatic transfer of juveniles to adult court.  This is a deeply unfair practice that disproportionately impacts youth of color.”

Click here to download the Automatic Transfer Cook County Fact Sheet.

In a somewhat surprise move, Preckwinkle responded to Obama’s call to “ensure that all youth, specifically boys and men of color, have opportunities for education, advancement and personal and professional success” by taking on a vestige from the ‘tough on crime’ 1980s that reeks of structural racism.  All told, President Preckwinkle, her Chief of Staff Kim Foxx, Robert Listenbee from the US Department of Justice, and Illinois State Representative Elaine Nekritz each spoke on the importance of ending automatic transfers.

-2This was exciting news for the group of Public Allies who attended the summit to learn how elected officials take on difficult community issues and address racial disparities within their jurisdiction.  The Allies are young leaders who are committed to careers in the nonprofit and government sectors and are currently serving 10 months as volunteers.   Bethany Garling, a member of the group, was inspired by the summit: “The work that Preckwinkle is doing to stop automatic transfers is a direct reflection of the type of change that needs to take place- an individual using their influence to take control of one piece of this system and reconstruct it in a very intentional way.”

The reality of racial disparity within the criminal justice system has weighed heavy in the minds, and daily lives of many residents.  Pinto explains, “As the nation grapples with the racial justice issues surrounding the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, and other young black men, we see a national movement growing around the demand to end police brutality toward people of color. The “Black Lives Matter” discussion is rapidly expanding into other aspects of the criminal justice system.”

-1The Cook County My Brother’s Keeper Summit presented an opportunity to see how Government leaders address structural inequity.  Preckwinkle has taken a hard look at the Justice System in Cook County.  She identified the practice of automatic transfers of juvenile defendants to the adult correctional system to be one of the most racially disparate practices in the administration of justice in Cook County. Quoting a study from the Juvenile Justice Initiative, she reported that over the course of three years, 257 young people were automatically transferred and only one was white. Further, that over the course of the study, the annual percentage of African Americans who were automatically transferred rose 15 points to 83%.

Up until 1982, judges made a decision if a juvenile defendant would be charged as an adult or not.  At that point law began to change so that young people charged with certain serious offenses were automatically tried as adults.  How the court treats a young defendant is now determined by the charges the prosecutor decides to bring against them, not the careful discretion of an impartial judge.  Preckwinkle stated, “We are sending young people to the adult system for lesser crimes than when judges made this crucial decision and almost every single one of them is black or brown.  This is deeply disturbing. The lack of due process robs young people of the fair hearing to determine whether or not they are suitable for the juvenile system’s rehabilitative opportunities.”  She also explained that this practice is a major driver of the increasing costs and population of the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, citing an 81% increase in the JTDC automatic transfer population from last year.

1of14Robert Listenbee, the Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention with the United States Department of Justice explained the White House is committed to evidence based policy and has learned that punitive juvenile justice systems are not very effective and that a public health mindset is key to building successful interventions for young people involved in the justice system.  Further that, “Automatic transfer policies do not take this evidenced based information into account and they do not improve either public safety or the lives of the children that they affect.”

Image by Cook County
Image by Cook County

After the Summit, Kim Foxx, Robert Listenbee and his Senior Policy Advisor Georgina Mendoza all took time to debrief the event and their efforts with the Public Allies.  In an encouraging closing of the summit, they challenged the Allies to create the change that they want to see in the world.  Afterwards, Garling had this to say, “Many of us come from families and communities that had been excluded in a variety of contexts; a lot of Allies have been primarily treated as though they are someone to be ignored or feared. Considering this, it was extremely meaningful to have someone in a position of power speak to us as though we are powerful, valuable people capable of making meaningful change.”

Click here to view video of the summit.