Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Tim Evans have ruffled some feathers among the law enforcement community since her election, particularly when it comes to a sweeping change in the way bonds are meted out to felony offenders.
Police leaders, including Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, have characterized the move as one that rewards criminal behavior and diminishes the hard work done by police officers, who arrest people only to see them back on the streets after posting low bail amounts.
The result of the new county policy has been to reduce the population at Cook County Jail by thousands. Late last year, the county announced the lowest number of inmates it was housing in memory.
Weitzel went to a bond court call at the Maybrook Courthouse late last year to observe the policy in action and was dumbfounded to see 26 of 27 defendants able to post bond or be released on electronic monitoring.
In a statement in the wake of that experience, Weitzel said such a policy would drive police morale down to the point that officers might stop being so aggressive in stopping law breakers.
To be sure, the county’s policy has had a profound effect on just who is being kept in custody by employing high bond amounts. Two recent serious cases out of Forest Park clearly demonstrate what’s happening.
Two men – one accused of murdering his brother and the other suspected of shooting another man multiple times outside of a bar – were released on electronic monitoring. Those are eyebrow-raisers.
However, in both of those cases neither has been accused of committing another crime or of jumping bail.
The point of assessing bonds is to assure defendants show up to stand trial for their alleged offenses. In many cases, even felony cases, the offenses are not violent. Many drug-related cases are automatically felonies, for example, anyone addicted to opioids and caught with illegal prescription drugs.
Is it prudent to have those people languish in a jail cell? Those are the kinds things being weighed by the new policy.
County officials say the policy is working. Around 90 percent of those released on bond are returning for court dates and are not becoming repeat offenders, they say. If that remains the case, then we’d say the policy is working.
Police should continue to aggressively ensure public safety is paramount; that’s their job as sworn officers. But the courts and prosecutors have their jobs, too, and that’s to ensure justice is pursued for both victims of crimes and alleged offenders.
It’s a tightrope, to be sure, but it needs to be walked without fear that either police or courts somehow won’t do their best if they don’t completely agree with a specific policy.
Incarceration rates in the United States dwarf the rest of the civilized world. Is the nation’s citizenry that dangerous? There has to be a middle ground where public safety is ensured while avoiding imprisoning low-level offenders whose main failing is not being well off enough to post bond.