Each year the highly respected think tank, Prison Policy Initiative, selects outstanding research projects in the field of criminal justice. For 2017, one of their choices was “Punishment Is Not A Service,” an excellent report by the Chicago Community Bond Fund (CCBF) on the activities of the Cook County Bond court initiated this past September. Framed as part of the Bond Fund’s effort to both eliminate cash bond and reduce jail populations, their research illustrates some of the perils of unbridled decarceration. While many activists are fighting to eliminate cash bond (also bail) in their jurisdictions, the Bond Fund looked beyond the relief of pre-trial release to explore the situations facing individuals who were released. Although folks obviously preferred to be on the streets than in one of the worst county jails in the country, the conditions imposed on people awaiting trial, especially draconian regimes of electronic monitoring, created some surprising ironies. In some cases, the pre-trial release had consequences even worse than what would have happened had the person remained incarcerated. Here is a brief excerpt from the report:
Under the guise of helping accused people come back to court and avoid re-arrest, pretrial
conditions restrict the liberty of innocent people and even mimic the same harms as pretrial
incarceration, causing loss of jobs, housing, access to medical care and putting severe strain on
social support networks and family members. Pretrial conditions such as curfews actually place
more severe restrictions on freedom than sentences received after conviction, such as probation,
supervision, and conditional discharge. Furthermore, punitive pretrial conditions coerce people
to plead guilty, undermining accused people’s rights and recreating the negative impacts of
incarceration in jail. These pretrial conditions violate the presumption of innocence that seeks to
prevent punishment before conviction.
The report includes personal stories of people for whom the CCBF paid bond for pre-trial release. Several of these individuals faced conditions which led them to lose employment, which posed enormous problems for family members and even forced them to plead guilty in a case they might have won. James Kilgore and Emmett Sanders of the Challenging E-Carceration project were proud to have provided some research on electronic monitoring for the report, highlighting the ways in which the courts denied people credit for time served while on EM in direct opposition to the state statute. For all those working to end cash bond, as well as those of us concerned with the harms and net widening of electronic monitoring, this report is a must read.