Cook County sheriff calls for scrapping cash-bond system

CHICAGO  — The Cook County sheriff has called for abolishing Illinois' cash-bond system, saying it's unfair to low-level defendants who can't afford to pay and puts society in danger when defendants with violent backgrounds are freed until trial when posting bail.

Sheriff Tom Dart's statement Tuesday comes days before the County Board has scheduled a hearing to overhaul how the county sets bonds.

Dart spoke inside Division 11, a maximum secured unit of the jail and wants the legislature and Gov Rauner to get on board with his plan, a requirement to change the current state statute.

Dart cited 185 current inmates of 8,133 being housed, all of whom are charged with non-violent crime such as retail theft or criminal trespass as examples.  Those inmates have sat incarcerated for months, sometimes more than a year, because they could not post as little as $1000 bond while simultaneously costing taxpayers at least $150.00 a day.

Conversely, Dart cited Pierre Stokes, the father of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee, who was gunned down in an alley last year in retaliation as part of ongoing gang war.  Stokes was charged in June of 2014 with aggravated assault and unlawful use of a weapon while on parole.

“He had a $90,000 bond set. He came up with the $9,000,” Dart said.  “Then on March 8th of 2016 police say he shot three people at 79th and Ashland. He is now in jail attempted murder charges.”

Under current state law, cash bail is to ensure defendants show up for court and don't pose a danger to the community.

Dart's policy director, Cara Smith, says the sheriff's office is drafting legislation that would allow judges to assess whether a defendant should be in custody or released under conditions including electronic monitoring. She says Illinois would need to invest in more court services to help judges make decisions and improve monitoring of those freed pending trial.