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Sheriff Wants To Abolish Bail System That Keeps Poor People In Jail

By Emma G. Gallegos in News on Nov 15, 2016 4:49PM

Sheriff Tom Dart

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is calling for an end to Illinois' cash bail system, which penalizes poor people and sometimes even keeps them in jail long past their actual sentence. His office, which runs the Cook County jails, says that they are drafting legislation to reform the system.

Right now sheriff's officials say that there are as many as 200 inmates in jail right now who can't come up with the $1,000 they need to make bail, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. And 1,024 inmates last year spent more time in jail than their actual sentence, because they couldn't make bail while they awaited trial, the Chicago Tribune says.

Dart is proposing that defendants undergo a more thorough background check, like those done at the federal level, to determine whether defendants should be released from jail as they await trial.

“It would be a much more thorough evaluation,” Cara Smith, Dart's top policy official told the Sun-Times. "The goal would be to provide judges with much more information."

Washington D.C. has a no-cash bail system and Colorado has considered it.

Civil rights advocates say cash bail, which disproportionally hits people of color, violates the Eighth Amendment that bars excessive bail, fines, and cruel and unusual punishment. Last month they filed a suit challenging cash bail in Cook County.

"Money bail is one of the most senseless, devastating, and anachronistic features of modern American law, and it is shockingly applied in Cook County to keep thousands of people in jail cells at taxpayer expense every day — not because they are dangerous but because they are poor," Alec Karakatsanis of Civil Rights Corps, told Injustice Watch. His organization, which has challenged similar practices in Alabama, Texas and California, teamed up with local firms and the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law.

Aside from humanitarian concerns, some government officials are pointing out that keeping people locked up because they're too poor to make bail is a poor use of taxpayer money. County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who wants to reduce the number of nonviolent offenders in jail, says she is in favor of bond reform.

The County Board will be hosting a hearing Thursday on its bond practices.