CCBF Responds to Sheriff Dart’s Fiction with Facts

Over the weekend, Sheriff Tom Dart spoke to WBBM’s Craig Dellimore and claimed that bond reform in Cook County has gone too far. His remarks come after Chief Judge Timothy Evans reported earlier this month that the overwhelming majority of people released pretrial in Cook County are successfully returning to court and not being rearrested. Despite the hard proof of success in the Chief Judge’s data, Sheriff Dart chose to emphasize the nature of the charges some people being released are facing. His remarks are intended to stir up irrational fear of our friends, family members, and loved ones, rather than acknowledging that many people who would previously have been subjected to unconstitutional, unaffordable money bond and are now free to fight their cases and are succeeding.

The overwhelming majority of the people benefitting from bond reform in Cook County are Black and Brown. According to the Chief Judge’s report, Black people saw the largest increased in I-Bonds (release without payment of money) after reforms: a 117% increase compared to a 52% increase in I-Bonds for white people. To casually disparage the success of bond reform in Cook County is necessarily to call for the pretrial incarceration of more Black community members.

Sheriff Dart’s remarks focused primarily on people accused of “violent” charges. While allegations of interpersonal violence are understandably frightening, it is important to remember that people being incarcerated in jail pretrial have not been convicted of a crime and are being denied the fundamental right to liberty while presumed innocent. Recent data released by the Office of the Chief Judge reaffirms that someone accused of a violent crime does not indicate that they are a present danger to their communities. Following the implementation of General Order 18.8A, just about one half of one percent of the the tens of thousands of people released pretrial were rearrested for a “violent” charge. Such a small percentage of people is not an excuse to deny tens of thousands their right to pretrial freedom; to do so would be both immoral and bad public policy of the same sort that created mass incarceration.

Additionally, Dart spoke at length about the increased number of people being released onto the Sheriff’s Electronic Monitoring (EM) Program who would have previously been incarcerated in the jail. It is true that people with a wider range of charges have been ordered onto EM since reforms, but data proves that these individuals are not endangering their community. Sheriff Dart insisted on WBBM that additional security under his oversight is needed to keep the public safe from these individuals, the same unfounded claim he made at last year’s county budget. Such fearmongering is unjustified by data and appears to be a smokescreen to explain why the Sheriff’s jail budget has increased 28% as the number of people in jail has decreased by nearly 50%. This additional surveillance by the Sheriff’s Office is a waste of taxpayers’ money that is not being ordered by the court, who has deemed these individuals fit for release.

Reducing pretrial incarceration is making our communities safer. Thousands of our friends and neighbors who have been accused of crimes are now able to return home and work, take care of children, heal, and enjoy a true presumption of innocence. As a result, they are less likely to be convicted and will receive shorter sentences. Pretrial freedom also results in lower recidivism rates, meaning that bond reform actively contributes to long-term community safety and well-being. Cook County is showing the rest of the country that we can move away from the unconstitutional practice of incarcerating people pretrial on unaffordable money bonds without negatively impacting community safety.

Sheriff Dart’s choice to selectively emphasize rare occurrences while ignoring the overwhelming facts is both irresponsible and disappointing. Though the Sheriff considers himself a compassionate reformer, his repeated attacks on bond reform serve to undermine the important progress that has been made and perpetuate the harms of mass incarceration.

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