On Monday, June 12th, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced that her office has instituted a new policy instructing her prosecutors to recommend I-Bonds in many kinds of cases. In Illinois, I-Bonds are the form of pretrial release that does not require payment of money before release. I-Bonds are also called “personal recognizance bonds” because the person is released with only their signature.
According to the office, “Under the new policy, Assistant State’s Attorneys will recommend I-Bonds in misdemeanor cases and low-level felonies if the defendant has no prior violent criminal history. Offenses for which attorneys will recommend I-Bonds include retail theft, possession of a controlled substance and criminal damage to property. ASAs may recommend conditions to accompany the I-Bond as needed, and retain the discretion to not recommend an I-Bond if there are circumstances that indicate a risk to public safety, such as an elevated risk score on the Public Safety Assessment tool used in felony bond courts.”
Listen to our Senior Criminal Justice Policy Analyst Sharlyn Grace discuss the new policy on WBEZ:
Decisions made in bond court are as much a result of judicial culture and long-held habit as they are interpretations of the law. Existing bail law in Illinois permits (and arguably requires) that most people receive I-Bonds and other forms of non-financial pretrial release rather than monetary bonds. Nevertheless, money bonds continue to be set at high rates and result in the pretrial incarceration of thousands. For years, ASAs have only made bond recommendations in the most serious cases, asking for people charged with high-level felonies to be held without bond and taking no position in the vast majority of cases. Now, a new force in support of pretrial release will be present in bond courts across the county: ASAs recommending release.
The importance of leadership from the State’s Attorney’s Office in supporting expanded pretrial release cannot be understated. For too long, money has determined who awaits trial in jail and who awaits trial in the community. By supporting I-Bonds for many people, State’s Attorney Foxx is helping to move Cook County away from a money-based system of pretrial justice and toward a system that honors the presumption of innocence.
Chicago Appleseed is proud to work in partnership with community-based organizations supporting progressive criminal justice policy and building power in directly impacted communities. Through our work with The People’s Lobby, we have been actively working to support State’s Attorney Foxx and her team in adopting progressive, evidence-based reforms.
Rev. Dwayne Grant, a pastor in Englewood and a leader with The People’s Lobby, says, “I’ve spent time in jail before trial simply because I couldn’t afford bail, and that’s not right. We are encouraged to see State’s Attorney Foxx using her authority to recommend that judges release people who have not been convicted of a crime but who are often being incarcerated because they are too poor to afford the bail assigned to them.”
The impact of the new policy remains to be seen, and judges will of course retain ultimate decision-making power. The impact of this new policy must be monitored and evaluated. Here are three questions we have moving forward:
- Will judges follow these recommendations or continue to set monetary bonds that result in pretrial incarceration? At present, the pretrial risk assessment tool in Central Bond Court recommends release for many more people than judges actually release.
- Is the policy itself under-inclusive as written? For example, past crimes involving violence will disqualify many people with current non-violent charges. Will there be any limit on the impact of a 20 year-old violent charge for the man now in his 50s and arrested for drug possession?
- Finally, what will implementation look like? The State’s Attorney’s Office has more than 700 attorneys, almost all of whom were hired under previous State’s Attorneys. Culture shift takes time, and monitoring individual prosecutors’ use of discretion is difficult.
We hope to see these questions answered through a transparent process of data collection and public data sharing. Along with our community partners, Chicago Appleseed will continue to support and encourage bold reforms by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and public evaluation of new policies.