Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Shannon’s Experience with Pretrial Jailing and Electronic Monitoring in Cook County
Growing up on Chicago’s Southside, Shannon always had dreams of being a recording artist. While working a day job as a forklift driver, Shannon spent his free time writing music and performing at concerts around the midwest. At 32, Shannon’s life was going well: he was pursuing his passions and raising his four kids in Indiana. But everything came to a screeching halt in October 2019 when he was arrested while visiting Chicago with a friend.
In bond court, a judge set a $75,000 bond, meaning he would need $7,500 to be released. With four children at home and little financial support, Shannon knew he was going to be trapped in Cook County Jail. As he was led out of court, he thought to himself that he was “in for a ride.”
Cook County Jail was extremely unsanitary. Many people incarcerated with Shannon had rashes or boils due to the filthy environment. The water from the fountains tasted like rust and the food was horrible. Medical care was inadequate, which Shannon learned when he was bit by a spider. When he asked for help, the guards said if he couldn’t show them the spider, he wouldn’t be able to get help. The wound got so infected that it left a hole the size of nickel in his leg–it was only at this point that he received medical care.
While in jail, Shannon reached out to us at the Chicago Community Bond Fund, and we worked with his sister to pay his bond and secure his release from Cook County Jail. After four and half months of incarceration, Shannon was released on house arrest with electronic monitoring.
Shannon’s four months in jail had cost him his job and car, electronic monitoring would cost him his housing. The Sheriff’s office requires that people on electronic monitoring live in Cook County, which forced Shannon to leave his home in Indiana and move to Chicago. Once in Chicago, Shannon was on 24/7 house arrest. The restrictions also made it impossible for Shannon to work. Without pandemic assistance, he wouldn’t have been able to survive. At no point during his time on electronic monitoring was he able to get permission to go to a store for food or hygiene products, nor was he permitted to visit a doctor. He went days without eating and months without mental health medication as a result.
The Sheriff’s office regularly came to his home because the ankle shackle inaccurately located him outside his home. Anytime this happened, he would have to record himself at home to keep the Sheriff’s from taking him back to jail on a false violation. This harassment and threat of reincarceration, on top of the case hanging over his head created an incredible amount of stress for Shannon. At one point, twelve Sheriff’s officers came into his house in response to a false violation and handcuffed him in front of his children while they decided whether or not they’d take him back into custody. Not only was he traumatized, but his kids will never be able to forget that.
Shortly after Shannon was released, the pandemic hit and slowed down the progress of his case. For months, he was having short hearings over zoom where minimal progress was being made. It ultimately took two years for the case to be resolved.
In September 2021, Shannon had a bench trial and was found not guilty.
After four months of incarceration and nineteen months on house arrest with electronic monitoring, Shannon was free from the system. However, his fight was not over. “Even though I beat my case, I still feel like I lost, because of the time I’ll never get back.” Shannon is starting over from scratch without any support from the system that harmed him. Being on house arrest for so long has impacted his mental health: he still feels on edge when he goes outside because, just a few months ago, that meant going back to jail. He also feels he lost aspects of his personality, and went from being an extrovert who performed in front of thousands of people to being an introvert who feels paranoia around everyone, and still feels on edge just going outside.
As Shannon’s experience shows, pretrial punishment has lasting effects on people’s lives, families, and futures. No one should suffer such loss merely based on an accusation.
Next year, the Pretrial Fairness Act will end money bond and dramatically reduce pretrial incarceration in Illinois. Portions of the legislation have already taken effect, expanding the rights of people on electronic monitoring. This legislation is under attack from Republicans who want to maintain the status quo that has harmed our communities and people like Shannon for decades. Take two minutes to tell your legislator to protect the Pretrial Fairness Act.