With the help of Housing Forward, Kim (left) and Anthony moved from a tent near I-290 to an apartment. | File photo

Proponents for cash bail reform in Cook and Lake counties say the old system makes people guilty until proven innocent. 

The Pretrial Fairness Act, signed into law in February of 2021, will eliminate the use of cash bail in Illinois this coming Jan. 1. State Sen. Darren Bailey, the Republican candidate for governor, is pushing for a full repeal of the law, while Gov. Pritzker, the Democratic candidate, has repeatedly said he supports the measure.

Anthony was homeless three years ago, and was moved into transitional housing by Housing Forward two years ago with his partner Kim and then into a permanent apartment in Northlake. Although life was still a struggle for Anthony, who is now approaching 40, he was off the street and seemed to be heading toward some measure of independence.

Then about year ago while driving a borrowed car, a police officer pulled him over in Northlake and asked if he knew his brake light wasn’t working. The officer was friendly, but after running his driver’s license the officer told him there was a warrant from Lake County for his arrest.

Anthony was dumbfounded. Because he had been homeless for three years, he had no mailing address and was unaware he had been charged with anything. 

He was taken to Cook County Jail because he was arrested in Cook County. And that’s where, in spite of the principle that you’re innocent until proven guilty, he was treated like he was guilty until proven innocent.

First, bail was posted at $5,000. Anthony did not have even $50, so he was locked up in the infamous prison for five days until Lake County could pick him up. 

Anthony described the jail as a house of horrors, run in effect by the gang known as the Gangster Disciples. 

Because he was white, he said, and not hooked up, i.e. not affiliated with the gang, he tried to keep a low profile as he observed violence all around him. He witnessed fights between inmates every day with the guards letting them go at it. 

“It was so scary,” he recalled. “I saw people getting hurt every day.”

It’s difficult to verify the details of what Anthony claims about the violence at the facility, but an Oct. 9, 2014 Chicago Tribune headline described Cook County Jail as “one of the most dangerous in the country.”

He was housed with 40 other inmates in a dormitory-style cell about 100 feet by 60 feet with three toilets, two of which were broken. “I saw cockroaches crawling around,” he said, “and some of the food I was given was moldy.” 

Anthony in effect was being punished, not because he had been found guilty, but because he was poor.

After five days at the County Jail he was transported to the Lake County Jail in Waukegan. While en route he was handcuffed and chained between two other inmates. He got car sick and threw up near a huge guy who proceeded to hit him in the head with his handcuffs, knocking him out. He said he regained consciousness later with a huge welt on his head, not realizing at first where he was.

During the two days he spent at the Lake County Jail, the public defender to which he had been assigned tried to persuade the judge to release Anthony on what is called an I-Bond or Individual Bond by which individuals are released without paying money when they sign a statement that they will come to court. She argued that Anthony had a clean record since the warrant was issued five years ago, and was a good risk for returning for his court date. 

Instead, because he had none of Anthony’s paperwork confirming what the public defender had said, the judge reduced the bond from $5000 to $500 but put Anthony on what is called pretrial supervision, which is, in effect, parole. A friend posted the bond and Anthony thought the nightmare was over.

But he said he didn’t understand what “supervision” meant, either because he did not ask or was not told or both. Not understanding turned out to be a regular occurrence for Anthony during the past year.

What supervision meant was that Lake Co. mandated that he 

  •  Make random urine drops (drug screening) for which he had to pay $100 each.
  •  File reports every time he went to court, which cost him between $35 and $65.
  •  Pay court fees, including a case management cost of $315. 
  •  Take medication for his mental health issues at $26/week together with clinic visits that cost $14 a week.
  • And if he missed a payment, which happened frequently, a $75 late fee would be tacked on.

And that is only a portion of the charges assessed for all of the unfunded mandates required by “supervision.” August was a particularly challenging month for Anthony. He was charged a total of $4,940 for unfunded mandates, including court costs, filings, urine drops, meds, clinic, lawyer’s fees and transportation to Waukegan.

Housing Forward had provided rent-free housing for Anthony and Kim, procured Link cards for both of them for food, job leads, and occasionally money for other expenses, but they had zero funding for court costs, which led to so many late fees. 

Anthony’s sources of income were limited to day labor and part-time jobs, so he was almost always short of the expenses required for supervision. He would beg his mother, who lives in Iowa, for help, but she would only occasionally come through. He also had an assortment of sympathetic friends who would give him various amounts of money — sometimes hundreds and sometimes even thousands of dollars. 

The problem for these friends and also Housing Forward staff is “compassion fatigue.” Anthony reported that one Housing Forward caseworker told him that of all their clients he and Kim were “the most annoying” because of their constant pleas for financial help, and donations from friends dried up as well.

Obviously, Anthony is a supporter of no cash bail. He was being punished, he contends, by money-hungry county officials simply because he was too poor to post bond and unwilling to take the chance of going to trial without an expensive lawyer to plead his case.

The author met Anthony while he was panhandling on the ramp at Harlem and the Eisenhower Expressway. He has kept up with him for three years and done two previous stories on him and his partner Kim for the Forest Park Review. The warrant was for theft and was plea-bargained to a lesser charge and supervision. If he stays out of trouble for the rest of his supervision, his case will be cleared from his record.

The need for reform

The Pretrial Fairness Act, included in the SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform was passed January 2021. Short for Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today, the SAFE-T Act is an initiative backed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus in the wake of the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

The goal of the Pretrial Fairness Act is to move away from the existing wealth-based system of pretrial detention in favor of one based on an offender’s level of risk of reoffending or fleeing prosecution.

According to Keith Grant, a Lake County public defender and Pretrial Implementation Task Force member, interviewed by The Capitol Times, said citing and releasing people who commit less serious offenses provides better outcomes, saves taxpayers money, and frees officers to remain on the beat.

“Keeping people in custody when they don’t need to be,” Grant said, “actually creates a risk of harm to the community.”

The Loyola University of Chicago’s Center for Criminal Justice Research analyzed Illinois State Police data that showed that from 2020 to 2021, individuals jailed pretrial in Illinois spent an average of 34 days incarcerated.

Source: The Capitol Times