COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — Under a new plan from Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, prosecutors have begun urging judges to let nonviolent defendants go free — without having to post a cash bond — pending trial.
Included among those who prosecutors will recommend go free? Those arrested for assault and battery — as long as they don't have a violent history prior to the charge.
Foxx said in a statement Monday that it's typically poor defendants that end up being held in jail prior to a conviction and not necessarily the most violent or most-prone to flight risk.
“Routinely detaining people accused of low-level offenses who have not yet been convicted of anything, simply because they are poor, is not only unjust, it undermines the public’s confidence in the fairness of the system," Foxx said in a statement Monday.
During a typical bond hearing, prosecutors first present allegations against a defendant before detailing that person's criminal history, if any, but typically do not make a bond recommendation.
Public defenders or private defense attorneys then typically recommend a lenient bond while offering a judge any information to suggest the defendant is not dangerous or a flight risk (e.g. family ties, employment, community involvement).
Now, under Foxx's plan, prosecutors will also mention bond — urging judges to let nonviolent defendants go free on their own recognizance.
According to Foxx's office, prosecutors will consider recommending recognizance bonds for those who don't have any prior violent criminal history and are charged with misdemeanors or what she referred to as "low-level" felonies that could result in probation sentences, if someone is convicted.
In addition to assault and battery, charges include possession of a controlled substance, delivery of a controlled substance, retail theft, driving on a suspended or revoked license, aggravated DUI (where no one is injured), criminal damage to property, resisting arrest, burglary and possession of a stolen motor vehicle.
Ultimately, a bond court judge has the final say — and still can set any bond he or she chooses. If a judge doesn't agree with prosecutors, defendants can still be held on money bond or denied bail completely.
“For too long, prosecutors have abdicated our responsibility by not participating in this process," Foxx said. "With this policy change, we recognize the role our office can play in decreasing the over-reliance on pre-trial detention.”
In March, Foxx announced plans to work with the Cook County Sheriff's Office to identify and release nonviolent defendants being held in Cook County Jail, 2700 S. California Ave., before they cannot afford to post $1,000 or less. In December, Foxx instructed assistant state's attorneys to only pursue felony charges for retail theft if someone steals more than $1,000 worth of merchandise or has 10 prior felony convictions. Previously, shoplifters could be charged with a felony for stealing $300 to $500 worth of merchandise.
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, I'm talking to people who are no more dangerous to society than you and I," Dart said last year. "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.