In December 2018, CCBF paid $5,000 for Tony* to be released from Cook County Jail and onto house arrest with electronic monitoring (“EM”). CCBF paid Tony’s bond to bring him home to his five year old twins and ensure that he received proper medical care and a diet that supports his health. Tony, who is in his late 50’s, has a pacemaker, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. He has had two triple bypass surgeries. Tony’s diabetes was so severely aggravated by the food served in jail that his foot swelled to the point where he couldn’t lift it and he was forced to drag it on the ground when moving around.
Ultimately, Tony was denied release onto EM because part of his rent is paid through a section 8 voucher. (The standard lease agreement for section 8 housing precludes anyone from being in the residence on electronic monitoring.) Efforts by Tony’s excellent public defender to get the judge to remove EM as a condition of release were futile, even though the judge knows that the condition causes Tony to remain incarcerated in the jail. Today, more than four months after we paid his bond, Tony is still locked up in Cook County Jail while presumed innocent. Despite having his freedom taken away pretrial, Tony was never ordered detained by a judge or given adequate due process protections. Instead, the bond order of both an unaffordable money bond and electronic monitoring are both still “release” decisions that didn’t require the judge to make all the factual findings that would be necessary to explicitly keep Tony in jail while awaiting trial.
Over the last three years, CCBF has been unable to pay bond for a number of people because EM was a condition of their release and their housing was Section 8. People without somewhere to live on electronic monitoring remain in Cook County Jail even if they are otherwise eligible for release, so paying their bonds would not get them free. This irrational restriction punishes low-income people. Right now, there is no automatic rehearing or review of bond conditions even if someone who was ordered released on EM remains jailed—just like for people locked up on unaffordable money bonds. This practice of ignoring the reality of how electronic monitoring as a condition of bond (release!) keeps people incarcerated impacts not only people whose only housing option is Section 8, but also people experiencing homelessness, people with someone else already on EM at their home, and people whose only residence is outside of Cook County.
We want to acknowledge that a small number of beds are available at two social service housing organizations specifically for people on electronic monitoring in Cook County. Those programs, however, have restrictions on the types of charges people can have, so many people are not eligible to stay there. Even if beds are available, it sometimes can take weeks for a person to be approved at an one of the the organizations, resulting in significant time spent in the jail. On any given day, there are more than 150 people in Cook County Jail who have been ordered released onto electronic monitoring but who remain incarcerated because they have no suitable place to stay.
*Name changed to protect his identity.