Sheriff Dart Pushes Back on Bail Reform

Today, Sheriff Tom Dart attempted to raise alarm bells about the successes of bail reform in Cook County. Both major Chicago newspapers quote Dart and his office regarding the increased number of people who are arrested and accused of possessing a gun who are now released on electronic monitoring rather than being given money bonds as they were in the past. These unsubstantiated claims about imaginary threats to public safety seize on faulty numbers to further criminalize Black and Brown communities and push back on reform efforts that seek to shrink the size of Cook County Jail, and thus the Sheriff’s budget.

Electronic Monitoring is a serious restriction on people’s liberty that should not be used liberally. EM is a form of house arrest that restricts someone’s movement to within an average of 50-100 feet of a set location in their home for 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. The movement of people on EM is so restricted that they often cannot take out their garbage or set foot on their own front porches. They may not receive permission to go grocery shopping, go to work or church, or even take their children to school. The Sheriff’s conflation of Electronic Monitoring with release on an I-Bond is misleading at best and deeply dishonest at worst.

For a deeper understanding of how EM damages the lives of not just accused people but also their families, please read Lavette Mayes’s story.

There is no reliable independent research yet available to confirm that bail reform has negatively impacted public safety in Cook County. In a much more holistic and long-term look at how Cook County’s pretrial justice system is working, Chief Judge Evans’s Office found that of the thousands of people released pretrial between Oct. 1, 2015, and March 31, 2017, 82 percent of them weren’t charged with a new crime while their cases were pending. 

In the last 2.5 years, CCBF has posted bond for 32 people with charges involving guns, and 97% of them have returned to all their court dates and not been re-arrested. None were re-arrested on new charges involving weapons. These statistics show what providing support in the community—as opposed to surveillance and punishment—can accomplish.

We must hold tight to the fact that everyone who is accused of possessing a gun is innocent until proven guilty, just like the people accused of “stealing candy bars.” Many of these individuals will eventually be found to be innocent by a judge or jury or have their cases simply dropped. In 2016, almost 30% of gun possession cases ended with the case dismissed or the accused person acquitted by a judge or jury.

Pretrial incarceration is punishment before conviction, and it is bad policy. Jailing people before trial actually increases the chances that they will be re-arrested in the future precisely because incarceration destabilizes their lives and takes away the very things that help them succeed. George’s story is one such example of a young person who was accused of having a gun who was held in jail pretrial because he lacked enough money to pay his bond and who was then found not-guilty.

Self-serving attempts to fan the flames of public hysteria about violence must not be taken at face value in a city where so many people in under-resourced and criminalized communities feel compelled to carry guns for their own safety. More punishment does not bring safety, and investing more resources in our criminal legal system certainly will not. We should use the opportunity offered by bail reform to shrink Cook County Jail further and use the money saved to invest in jobs programs, education, housing, and mental health treatment resources in our communities. These are the public expenditures that we know will actually increase safety in the neighborhoods whose residents are currently disproportionately represented in Cook County Jail.

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