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New law limits bail profits Cook County can take from poor

A new Illinois law is going to cost Cook County $5 million in revenue each year. But the politician who pushed the law says those profits were being taken out of the pockets of the poorest residents.

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New law limits bail profits Cook County can take from poor

Cook County Jail

WBEZ/Rob Wildeboer

A new Illinois law is going to cost Cook County $5 million in revenue each year. That’s according to Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown’s office. But the local politician who pushed the law says those profits were being taken out of the pockets of the poorest residents in the county.

The law caps processing fees for posting bond at $100.

Here’s how it works: After someone is arrested a judge will often set bail. If the defendant puts up a certain amount of money they can be released from jail until trial. Currently Cook County charges a 10 percent processing fee for this service, so if someone has to post a $5,000 bond, the county keeps $500 dollars of that whether the defendant was found guilty or not.

Related: Innocent defendants still have to pay court fees to Cook County

“The county should not be using bond being posted by non-convicted individuals as a revenue source. It’s a tax on poor black and brown people primarily,” said Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey.

Fritchey pushed the $100 cap through the state legislature, which creates the statutes that control Circuit Court Clerk offices statewide.

“It’s one thing to talk about reforming the criminal justice system,” Fritchey said. “This was a substantive step towards doing that. Now granted there are a lot more to go, but one step at a time.’

He says he’d like to push a future law that would refund 100 percent of the bond posted by people who are found not guilty or whose cases are dropped or dismissed.

Fritchey says he’s also not convinced it’s going to cost the county the $5 million estimated by Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown.

“I think it’s very realistic that it will cost the county a couple of million dollars a year,
but to the extent that that is the price of doing things the morally and economically smart way, that’s fine by me,” he said.

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