Cook County, Il., Accused in Suit Charging Illegal Bail System

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Thousands of impoverished people, especially African Americans, are being illegally locked up before trial in Cook County because they are too poor to be able to post bond, a new lawsuit contends, reports in Chicago. The complaint, filed Friday in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of two jail inmates, contends that judges and Sheriff Tom Dart violate the constitution by illegally setting bond that poor people cannot pay and then holding them in jail while they await trial. The suit against Cook County would involve the largest number of people detained of any suit over bail filed so far.

Demanding bonds whether or not defendants are able to pay results in “widespread and systemic racial discrimination,” says the lawsuit filed on behalf of Zachary Robinson, 25, and Michael Lewis, 40. The suit contends Cook County’s imposition of cash bail hurts poor defendants by separating them from their families, keeping them from jobs or school, and hampering their ability to prepare a defense, often forcing them to plead guilty regardless of innocence. “Money bail is one of the most senseless, devastating, and anachronistic features of modern American law, and it is shockingly applied in Cook County to keep thousands of people in jail cells at taxpayer expense every day — not because they are dangerous but because they are poor,” said Alec Karakatanis of Civil Rights Corps in Washington, D.C., who has challenged bail practices in jurisdictions as varied as Alabama, Texas and California. An Injustice Watch investigation showed that the bail-to-jail pipeline keeps poor defendants accused of crimes in jail for days, months, and sometimes years.

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