July 17, 2017 / 11:37 PM / a month ago

Illinois judge orders reform of Cook County bail system

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Defendants who are not considered dangerous will no longer have to stay in jail if they cannot afford to pay bail while awaiting trial in the Illinois county that includes Chicago, a circuit court judge ordered on Monday.

Before an initial bail hearing, information will be provided by the defendant in Cook County regarding his or her ability - within 48 hours - to pay bail, the order said. If the defendant cannot pay, he or she will not be held before trial.

"Defendants should not be sitting in jail awaiting trial simply because they lack the financial resources to secure their release," Timothy Evans, chief judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, which includes Chicago, said in a statement.

"If they are not deemed a danger to any person or the public, my order states that they will receive a bail they can afford," the judge said.

The order goes into effect on Sept. 18 for felony cases and on Jan. 1, 2018, for misdemeanor cases in the circuit court.

Defendants who are deemed dangerous, however, will be held in jail without bond, according to the court's statement. Judges can also release defendants on individual recognizance or electronic monitoring, which do not require the defendant to pay money to be released, it said.

Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who chairs the county board's criminal justice committee called on the state Supreme Court to follow suit.

"It is an extraordinary and significant step toward the critical and constitutionally mandated goal of ending the longstanding practice of jailing presumptively innocent persons prior to trial because they are too poor to post cash bail," Garcia said in a statement.

Evans has publicly stated his preference for a bail system like that in Washington, where the majority of defendants are released pending trial without being required to pay cash bail, the court's statement said.

After the first year of the order, Evans will review how the order affects the jail population, defendants' attendance at future court hearings and whether new offenses are committed by defendants while their cases are pending, the statement said.

The U.S. Justice Department filed an amicus brief in a federal circuit court in August 2016 that said mandating inmates to pay bail in order to be released before a trial violates civil rights and discriminates against people who cannot afford the fee.

Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales, editing by G Crosse

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