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No Strategy To Review Bail For Thousands In Cook County Jail

For the last two weeks, if a Cook County judge sets bail in a felony case they are required to make it one the defendant can afford. But officials said there is no plan to review bail for the thousands of inmates already in jail.

Over the summer, Chief Judge Timothy Evans issued an order that required judges to set bails that defendants can pay. It notes that anybody unable to post bond for a felony can have their bail reviewed within seven days. But the order didn’t take effect in felony cases until Sept. 18. Judges can still order someone held without bail.

The change was part of a sweeping reform of the bail system that had been criticized as unfairly punishing the poor. Other changes included replacing all six judges tasked with setting bail at the city’s main courthouse at 2600 S. California Ave.

But there are still about 4,000 people in jail because they don’t have the money to post bond, according to Sheriff Tom Dart’s office.

That’s because many of the people in the jail had their bail set before the order took effect.

First Assistant Public Defender Keith Ahmad said he believes the new order allowing for bail review applies to people whose bail was set before Sept. 18. Ahmad said the public defender’s office doesn’t yet have a strategy for getting bail for those defendants reviewed.

Ahmad said individual defense lawyers could ask for bail reviews as their clients’ cases come up for hearings, but lawyers will have to weigh whether asking for such a review could result in a judge ordering a suspect held without bail because the judge believes they pose a risk to public safety.

Activists with the Community Bond Fund, a group that helps pay bail for people who can’t afford it, have praised the new rules, but are concerned about the people who remain in jail because their bail was set before the order.

“We received more than 35 calls last week from people who are locked up in Cook County Jail with bonds they can’t pay,” Matt McLoughlin, co-founder of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, said in a statement earlier this week. “If Chief Judge Evans is serious about reforming Cook County’s bond system, something must be done for the thousands of people being caged at 26th and California simply for being poor.”

Pat Milhizer, a spokesman for Evans, would not comment on how the order should be  applied to people whose bail was set before it took effect.

The order will also take effect in misdemeanor cases starting in January of 2018.

Shannon Heffernan reports on criminal justice for WBEZ. Follow her at @shannon_h.

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