Chicago Judges Spurn Risk-Assessment System In 85% Of Bail Cases

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Judges in Chicago’s Cook County routinely make bail decisions for

Photo by James Willamor via Flickr

Photo by James Willamor via Flickr

crime suspects contrary to what the court’s new risk-assessment system calls for, finds a review of more than 1,500 cases this year obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Cook County sheriff’s office showed judges’ bail decisions differed from the guidelines about 85 percent of the time. The sheriff’s study found bail decisions were “inconsistent,” even when defendants’ backgrounds and the charges they faced were factored in. The 90-page study, the results of which Chief Judge Timothy Evans disputes, found that the amount and conditions of bail varied widely depending on which judge was presiding on a given day.

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, who pushed for the new system, said recently, “One of the key problems with our bond court judges is not just their unwillingness to apply the risk assessments when making their decisions but … that they are not being sufficiently trained and supervised and are not being held accountable.” The assessments assign a risk-level number that corresponds to a recommended bail. One aim was to identify more nonviolent suspects who qualify for release pending trial. Pat Milhizer, a court spokesman, says that in the three months before the assessments began, 52 percent of defendants in nonviolent, non-weapons felony cases were released; from January through May, that rose to 67 percent. Milhizer says training for judges doesn’t replace sound judgment. He points to a case in which the assessment system recommended releasing a man charged with gun possession even though he was accused of pointing the gun at someone and pulling the trigger twice, without it firing. Despite the recommendation, the judge set a significant bail.

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