Introducing Principles for Bail Reform in Cook County

Principles of Bail Reform in Cook County

The pretrial detention system in Cook County needs reform. Cook County Jail incarcerates approximately 7,500 people per day. An additional 2,000 people are under the Sheriff’s supervision through electronic monitoring. More than 90% of the people detained are pretrial and thus presumed innocent—a considerably higher rate than the national rate of 67%. Approximately two thirds of unconvicted people incarcerated or on electronic monitoring in Cook County would be free if they could afford to pay a monetary bond.

The overuse of pretrial incarceration and monitoring comes at tremendous personal cost to impacted individuals and entire communities. Pretrial detention leads to lost jobs, lost housing, and even lost custody of children. In addition, people detained pretrial are more likely to be convicted. They also receive longer sentences compared to people released pretrial with similar backgrounds and charges. African Americans receive disproportionately high monetary bonds and are disproportionately unable to pay these bonds. Seventy-three percent of the people incarcerated in the Cook County Jail are African American despite the fact that African Americans make up only 25% of Cook County’s population.

Recent history has shown that the population of Cook County Jail can be decreased substantially with no impact on public safety or court appearance rates. The following six principles provide guidance for reform efforts designed to reduce the number of people incarcerated pretrial in Cook County Jail.


  1. Access to money should not determine whether or not an accused person is detained in jail or subject to other conditions pending trial.
  2. Pretrial services programs should be used to promote court attendance and provide needed services and not place unnecessary conditions on the accused person.
  3. Conditions of bail should not prevent an accused person from performing basic personal responsibilities, impose direct or indirect economic costs, or unduly expose the accused person to new criminal charges.
  4. Pretrial detention and other restrictions on liberty should be used only as a last resort to ensure community safety and the defendant’s appearance in court.
  5. Data on detention and release outcomes should be collected and made available for public review and system assessment purposes. Risk assessments, if used, must be validated, transparent, and their impact must be tracked.
  6. Administrative reforms should be made to ensure court practices conform to the law. Judges should receive education and training consistent with existing law and these principles.


These six simple principles provide a tool for evaluating proposed reforms in many different forums, including state legislation, lawsuit settlements, and administrative and policy changes. The Principles create basic guidelines for reform in order to prevent a situation in which monetary bail is eliminated but pretrial incarceration remains stagnant or even increases, the costs of pretrial services are shifted onto accused people instead of borne by the system that imposes them, or other undesirable and inequitable consequences. Over the course of nearly a year, a group of both law and policy and community-based organizations has been meeting to develop consensus around the shape of proposed bail reforms. Participating organizations have also drafted bail reform legislation, participated in a County hearing on monetary bond and pretrial detention, and hosted various teach-ins and community town halls about monetary bond and pretrial punishment.

To view or download The Principles of Bail Reform in Cook County as a PDF click here.

Current Endorsers:

Elected Officials:

  • Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García


  • A Just Harvest
  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois
  • Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law
  • Cabrini Green Legal Aid
  • Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice
  • Chicago Community Bond Fund
  • Chicago Council of Lawyers
  • Chicago Urban League
  • Chicago Votes
  • Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA)
  • Community Renewal Society
  • Criminal Justice Task Force, First Unitarian Church
  • Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd.
  • Illinois Justice Project
  • John Howard Association
  • Justice and Witness Ministry of the Chicago Metropolitan Association, Illinois
  • Conference, United Church of Christ
  • Juvenile Justice Initiative
  • League of Women Voters of Cook County
  • League of Women Voters of Illinois
  • Nehemiah Trinity Rising
  • Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center
  • Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Chicago
  • The Next Movement
  • The People’s Lobby
  • The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law
  • TASC, Inc. (Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities)
  • Thresholds
  • Safer Foundation
  • Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL)
  • Unitarian Universalist Advocacy Network of Illinois
  • Unitarian Universalist Prison Ministry of Illinois

If your organization is interested in endorsing the Principles of Bail Reform in Cook County, please contact Sharlyn Grace by email at sharlyngrace [at] chicagoappleseed [dot] org.

The Path Here

On April 20, 2016, Chicago Appleseed partnered with Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd. to host a convening entitled “Ending Money Bail Advocacy Strategies.” At that meeting, which brought together criminal justice system stakeholders, advocates, and community groups, Matt Piers from Hughes Socol provided an overview of the lawsuit they later filed in October along with attorneys from The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center and Civil Rights Corp. Sharlyn Grace, at that time representing Chicago Community Bond Fund, spoke about the need to focus reform attention not just on monetary bail, but on pretrial incarceration itself. She also helped set the stage for reform efforts to engage critically with proposed solutions such as increased use of electronic monitoring and risk assessment tools, which may offer relief from incarceration but also come at social costs that must be made transparent, and then monitored and evaluated in practice.

The theory of the convening was that there would be space opened up for either legislative or administrative reforms as a result of the lawsuit, and that community groups should be involved in shaping those reforms. This way, if the litigation team’s challenge to Cook County’s practice of incarcerating people who are presumed innocent simply because they cannot pay a monetary bond was successful, community groups would be ready with proposed reforms rather than asking a judge to shape a solution. Ideally, County and state elected officials would proactively seek reforms to the bail system that would satisfy the demands of the lawsuit.

Following the April 20th convening, Chicago Appleseed began hosting monthly meetings of advocates interested in reforming the use of monetary bond in Cook County, and possibly state-wide. In these meetings, Chicago Appleseed, Hughes Socol, and CCBF were joined by representatives from the The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, The People’s Lobby, United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations, A Just Harvest, Southside Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL), The Next Movement, Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI), Communities United, Illinois Justice Project, and others. The Principles of Bail Reform in Cook County are the first collectively authored document of this group effort.