#BlackLivesMatter Protesters Cleared for Release are Trapped in Cook County Jail Due to Judges’ Overuse of Electronic Monitoring
In the wake of last week’s uprising against police violence, hundreds of people were charged with felonies and sent to bond court where a judge decided whether or not they would be allowed to return to their communities while awaiting trial. Many of these people were ordered to pay unaffordable money bonds, which—if not for your donations—would have resulted in their incarceration in Cook County Jail. Judges also ordered many people to house arrest with electronic monitoring (EM), either combined with a money bond or on its own. Despite the order that these individuals be sent home on EM, many of them remain trapped in Cook County Jail waiting for equipment to become available. The jail remains a dangerous COVID-19 hotspot where any amount of time inside is a thread to someone’s health and well-being.
Over the last week, CCBF has worked with the National Lawyers Guild of Chicago and dozens of volunteers to track many people passing through bond court and ensure they are released. We have found that people assigned to electronic monitoring are being held for as many as seven days after being told they could go home by a judge. Each of these individuals was trapped in jail because judges continue to order people to Sheriff’s electronic monitoring as a condition of release even though they know the county ran out of equipment more than a month ago. As of today, more than 15 people who were arrested at recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations remain incarcerated in Cook County Jail because the county cannot meet their conditions of release. In effect, these orders to house arrest have become a de facto detention order that places people at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and unconstitutionally denies them their pretrial liberty.
Many of the most significant harms of pretrial incarceration happen in the first few days of being locked up. In just a few days, a person can lose their job, home, and even custody of their children. The risk of death is also highest during the first few days in jail. This extra time in custody is completely avoidable and is the direct result of judges refusing to adapt to a new situation.
The reality is that there is no shortage of electronic monitoring devices; it is the overuse of this punitive technology by Cook County Judges and the overreliance on carceral systems such as EM that is keeping people caged in Cook County Jail while COVID-19 continues to run rampant. Next to jailing someone, electronic monitoring is the most severe punishment the court can administer pretrial. Sheriff’s EM in Cook County is a draconian form of 24/7 house arrest in which people are unable to leave their homes to go grocery shopping, do laundry, or perform the other basic tasks of life. During the pandemic, Cook County has increased the number of people on the Sheriff’s EM by over 900, from 2,400 people to more than 3,300 today. The judges’ excessive reliance on a punitive technology with no proven track record of success now has life and death consequences. Electronic monitoring is not an alternative to incarceration, it is an alternative form of incarceration.