- Associated Press - Thursday, March 2, 2017

CHICAGO (AP) - Cook County prosecutors will no longer oppose the release of some detainees who are held on nonviolent offenses because they can’t afford to pay cash bonds of up to $1,000.

State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced the change Wednesday, The Chicago Tribune reported (https://trib.in/2mejALy ).

Sheriff Tom Dart’s policy chief, Cara Smith, quickly praised the decision. Dart has focused on the issue for the past two years in order to reduce the county jail’s population.

“For the first time we have a state’s attorney taking a powerful stand on bail,” Smith said. “I think that’s what’s really significant here.”

The immediate impact of the decision will be minimal, affecting just a few dozen of the more than 7,400 inmates currently in jail. But Foxx and other county officials say it’ll make the criminal justice system fairer and more cost effective.

The expense for taxpayers has been significant, as it costs about $60,000 to keep an inmate in jail for a year. According to a county study, it could be more expensive if an inmate has serious health or mental problems.

Foxx said she believes there’s an agreement that something is wrong with a system that allows inmates facing violent charges to bond out if they have cash while defendants charged with nonviolent offenses languish in jail even though their bonds are sometimes only a few hundred dollars.

The cash-bail system was designed to ensure that defendants don’t harm others or flee before trial.

But it has increasingly come under fire as discriminatory, often stranding largely poor, minority defendants for months as they await trial for relatively minor offenses. Critics say judges don’t always know crucial details in deciding on the amount of the cash bail.

According to the sheriff’s office, an average of 250 to 300 people are jailed every day because they can’t post bonds of $1,000 or less.

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, https://www.chicagotribune.com

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