Story at Chicago Tribune
By John Byrne
11:59 AM CDT, July 12, 2012
Cook County Jail inmates stuck behind bars because they can't come up with small amounts of money to go free while awaiting trial for non-violent offenses will automatically go before judges to possibly get their bail reduced under a plan announced by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today.
Inmates always have been able to request that judges reconsider their bond amounts.
But a panel convened by Preckwinkle to study bond court in Cook County recommended the step become standard in cases where defendants remain in jail despite needing $10,000 or less to walk out.
Roughly 900 inmates already in the jail fit the new "motion to reconsider" parameters.
Many are people arrested for having small amounts of drugs, according to Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, who chaired the Justice Advisory Council.
Lawyers will begin going back over their cases and asking judges to lower their bonds. Defendants who have low bonds set in the future will have a second hearing within a couple days if they remain in jail.
The panel also called on the county to renovate the facilities where public defenders meet with their clients prior to bond court to get the background information they use to urge judges to set low bonds, and to switch exclusively to a computerized record system so lawyers and judges have complete information about the housing and family situations of defendants before court.
The county's electronic monitoring system will also likely be expanded so more people can get out of the crowded jail, which now houses about 9,400 inmates.
Preckwinkle said she does not know how much it will cost to make the changes, or where the cash-strapped county will get the money. But she said enacting the reforms is a matter of fairness.
"I can't tell you (the cost), but I think the long-term goal is to reduce the jail population without endangering the citizenry or the defendants," Preckwinkle said.
It costs about $143 per day to keep an inmate at Cook County Jail, Preckwinkle said.
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