COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — Starting in December, those with pending Cook County criminal cases will have access to phone and text reminders about upcoming court dates.
"We had 14,000 people who had a warrant issued last year because they did not come back to court when they were supposed to," Chief Judge Timothy Evans said at a news conference Wednesday.
"Under this new approach, we will be notifying [people] similarly to the way you get notified for your doctor's appointments — through phone calls, text messages and things of that kind."
The announcement comes on the heels of a bond court order implemented Sep. 18 that requires judges to set affordable bail amounts for felony defendants who don't pose a risk to the community. That same order will take effect for misdemeanor cases countywide in January.
Evans previously called the order "a commitment to fairness" meant to "extend the assumption of innocence to all defendants."
Since Sep. 18, Evans said Wednesday, about 75 percent of people charged with felonies have been released on their own recognizance pending trial. Before the order, Evans said, 50 percent to 59 percent were released.
Earlier this summer, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx instructed prosecutors to urge Cook County judges to let nonviolent defendants go free without having to post bond. Sheriff Tom Dart previously has endorsed eliminating cash bonds.
Evans was joined by Foxx, Public Defender Amy Campanelli and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Wednesday at 69 W. Washington St. as the MacArthur Foundation announced a $1.85 million grant meant to help Cook County Jail reduce its population.
The grant will help employ several data analysts to track defendants before trial, Evans said.
And early next year, according to Campanelli, the grant will fund a pilot program linking the Chicago Police Department and Cook County hospital system to divert some arrestees into treatment programs for addiction and mental health services.
The text alerts and automated phone call reminders will be funded by Cook County.