Cook County shouldn’t bail on further reform after change in bond hearings


Amelia Detwiler

Cook County shouldn’t bail on further reform after change in bond hearings

By Editorial Board

At 26th Street and California Avenue, thousands of Cook County Jail inmates are awaiting trial. The time between arrest and trial varies. For some, it is only a matter of days while others can wait years. Many inmates are left in jail cells simply because they cannot afford to post bail, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars. 

An order by Chief Cook County Judge Timothy Evans issued July 17 and effective Sept. 18 is meant to stop detention of defendants based on their income status. The order requires judges to set a bail that offenders can afford. Evans recently replaced six judges presiding over bond hearings, an action that seemed like a concerted step in implementing the order, which says the court will inquire about defendants’ ability to pay and “such inquiry shall allow the prosecutor, defense counsel, and the defendant the opportunity to provide the court with information pertinent to the defendant’s ability to pay monetary bail.”

An Illinois law requiring judges to take defendants’ financial standing into account while setting bail was already in place prior to Evans’ order, but many judges disregarded the law.

Enforcing bail reform is long overdue. According to a July 2016 study from Princeton University, pretrial detention has detrimental effects on those jailed. For defendants unable to afford bail, chances of imprisonment after trial are significantly higher. Even if defendants’ charges are ultimately cleared, their lives have already been severely affected by detention. The study stated that pretrial detention prevents inmates from working the jobs they already have and disrupts their lives. The study also found the stigma of being detained can leave defendants unemployed post-trial. 

While bail reform is an important part of creating a criminal justice system fair to all defendants, changes must be strictly enforced. Judges can disregard the order issued by Evans the same way critics claim the Illinois Bail Reform Act, which Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law June 9, was disregarded. Last year, a lawsuit filed by two former inmates claimed the now-released defendants were given unaffordable bail and Cook County judges routinely set bail amounts too high, and they are pushing forward with the case until enforcement improves, according to a Sept. 11 Chicago Tribune article. 

The public should acknowledge these small changes made for the good they may bring to the criminal justice system, but the fight for bail reform isn’t over until defendants can be sure judges presiding over bond hearings will comply. Until then, one can hope actions like Evans’ will change the county’s court room culture to protect low-income defendants from unnecessary jail time.