Chicago Community Bond Fund, Believers Bail Out and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Respond to COVID-19 Pandemic: Paying $120,000 to Free 20 People from Cook County Jail After County Fails to Act

Over 10 days ago, Chicago Community Bond Fund (CCBF) and nearly 100 advocacy, community, and legal organizations and unions began calling for the mass release of people from Cook County Jail to protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, CCBF and others have hosted a call-in campaign targeting the Cook County Chief Judge’s, State’s Attorney’s and Sheriff’s offices and filed an amicus brief in support of the mass release petition filed by Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli. Weeks after the necessary course of action was made clear, the number of people incarcerated in Cook County Jail has dropped by a mere 221. More than 5,000 people remain incarcerated in the jail today, almost all of them awaiting trial and presumed innocent. As of March 24, at least two people incarcerated in the jail and one Sheriff’s deputy had tested positive for COVID-19. 

Now, Chicago Community Bond Fund is working with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Believers Bail Out to pay over $120,000 in bonds to free more than 20 people from pretrial incarceration in Cook County Jail. Each person freed has been cleared for release by a judge but remains jailed and exposed to the deadly coronavirus due solely to poverty. 

“The situation at Cook County Jail is disgraceful and alarming on multiple levels,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “As a human rights organization, we’ve fought long and hard against needless pretrial detention, recognizing the blatant injustice of a system that penalizes you before your day in court. These issues are only magnified in the face of a global pandemic that endangers the lives of those detained simply because they cannot afford to pay bail.”

“I was incarcerated in Cook County Jail for two months because I couldn’t afford to pay a $7,500 money bond. The jail is unsanitary and crowded; people are living on top of each other. We have all been instructed to practice social distancing to protect public health, but that is impossible inside Cook County Jail. Thousands of lives are at risk—many simply because they can’t afford to pay a money bond. The size of someone’s bank account shouldn’t determine whether or not they live or die,” said Flonard Wrencher of the Austin neighborhood.

“Families across the country have been told to stay home from work and forego their income without assistance from the federal government. No one should have to choose between food on the table, a roof over their head, or getting their loved one out of the health hazard that is Cook County Jail,” said Maryam Kashani, Lead Coordinator of Believers Bail Out. 

“Our act of paying bond for people who can’t afford it is an important act of solidarity in this critical moment in which our elected officials have failed us, but it is not the solution to this crisis. There is no amount of money from philanthropic efforts from individuals or community groups that will fix this disastrous situation. It would take $13 million to bail out everyone from Cook County jail with a money bond. We call on Cook County officials to do their jobs and protect the lives of people living in Cook County by releasing people from Cook County Jail,” said Sharlyn Grace, Executive Director of Chicago Community Bond Fund.

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