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Chicago's bail reforms may not have had the rosy outcomes indicated by a top county judge's analysis, which independent researchers say is downplaying the new crimes that have resulted from allowing defendants to await trial outside of jail.
Those are the results of an analysis by a group of Chicago Tribune reporters in a new investigative piece as well as a just-published data analysis paper by University of Utah professors Paul Cassell and Richard Fowles.
In 2017, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans implemented an order reforming how the Chicago area courts handled pretrial detention. The goal was to reduce the demands for cash bail, which tend to keep people trapped behind bars on the basis of poverty rather than risk. Cook County met its goal of detaining fewer defendants before their trials. The number of defendants who secured pretrial release between 2016 and 2018 jumped from 71.6 percent to 80.5 percent. When cash bail was ordered, the amount demanded was much lower than before. Cook County's jail population dropped from 7,443 to less than 6,000.
Last May, Evans released a report that showed releasing more defendants from jail did not put the community at greater risk of crime. A high proportion of defendants (83 percent) charged with felonies and released under the new system returned to court as ordered and did not commit new crimes while released. In all, Evans' report painted a positive picture that matched the narrative of those who support bail reform: That court systems in Cook County were accurately sorting defendants based on the risk they posed to public safety and their likelihood of showing up to trial, rather than simply leaving everyone in jail simply because they couldn't afford to pay what the courts ordered.
But further examination of Evans' data paints a less rosy picture. Last week, The Chicago Tribune reported that Evans' report left out hundreds of violent crime charges filed after the bail reforms were implemented. The reporters say he did this by including certain violent crimes (murder, attempted murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated battery) and excluding incidents like domestic violence, assault with a deadly weapon, battery, reckless homicide, and others. If Evans' report had included all these other crimes, the Chicago Tribune calculates the number of violent crimes allegedly committed by released defendants would jump from 147 to 578. The largest chunk of these charges—231 of them—were for domestic battery.
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