COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — Cook County inmates who are too poor to post bond may soon get a reprieve thanks to a new initiative from State's Attorney Kim Foxx.
"People should be in our jails because they pose a risk to the public or they are a flight risk," Foxx said Wednesday. " ... We wanted to make sure folks who don't pose a risk are not sitting in jail because they're poor and cannot afford to post bond."
According to Foxx, county prosecutors worked with public defenders and the Cook County Sheriff's Office to identify 50 cases from 2016 in which nonviolent defendants are being held in Cook County Jail, 2700 S. California Ave., because they cannot afford to post $1,000 or less.
Where appropriate, Foxx said, prosecutors will now support motions allowing those defendants to go free pending trial.
What does that mean?
It could spell out release for one man who was booked for retail theft in November, Foxx said. The man reportedly stole $300 worth of merchandise and would need to post $300 to go free. He simply doesn't have the cash. Prosecutors are now advocating he go free.
"Historically," Foxx said, "the state's attorney's office has not asked for [recognizance] bonds. We have left the decisions to the judges and defense attorneys. ... We felt like we had an obligation to make sure the people who are in our jails immediately pose a threat and aren't there because they're poor."
Foxx estimates it costs $163 a day to house someone at Cook County Jail. By freeing nonviolent suspects, she said, the county could save millions in the long run.
Foxx said Cook County's bond system "is in need of reform" — noting that all too often, violent criminals involved in gang or drug activity are freed from jail because they can afford to post high bonds while people who commit lesser crimes are stuck.
To date, prosecutors have identified 50 cases ideal for release; most involve drug use or property damage. Officials plan to identify additional cases in coming months.
"We were really looking at those who were languishing," Foxx said.
Earlier this month, Illinois state Rep. Christian Mitchell, whose 26th District runs along the lakefront from the Near North Side to the South Side, introduced a bill that would eliminate the use of cash bonds all together in Illinois.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart came out last year in favor of eliminating money bonds, which he dubbed costly and ineffective. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in October called for a public hearing on bond reform — arguing that unnecessary incarceration wastes taxpayer money.
"Often, as I'm walking through the jail," Dart said last year, "I'm talking to people who are no more dangerous to society than you and I. People are in here because they committed an insignificant crime and can't pay an insignificant bond because they're poor."
Dart argued that defendants should only be held in jail pending trial for two reasons: They're either a flight risk or too dangerous to society to roam free. Dart estimates it costs at least $150 a day to house an inmate.