Class Status Denied in Suit Over Chicago-Area Bail Policy

CHICAGO (CN) – A federal judge declined Wednesday to certify a class of pretrial detainees challenging the Cook County sheriff’s policy delaying the release of jail detainees, pending his personal review, even though they have already posted bail.

Two years ago, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans implemented major changes to Chicago’s bond system to ensure that no one is held in jail simply because they cannot afford to pay bail.

Before the reform, many people suspected of nonviolent crimes remained in jail because they could not afford to pay a couple hundred dollars to make bail – at great expense to the county, which pays about $126 per day to keep someone jailed.

Since then, the Cook County jail population has gone down about 15 percent from about 7,500 to 6,500.

Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart initially supported the bond reforms, but then backtracked and expressed his dissatisfaction with the results.

In February 2018, Dart sent a letter to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle saying that the changes have overwhelmed the county’s electronic monitoring, or EM, program. He said hundreds of people charged with serious gun crimes have been released from jail on electronic bracelets, posing a public safety concern.

“Moving forward, my office will closely scrutinize all individuals who are assigned to E.M. by carefully reviewing their charges and criminal histories, a process that may take up to 48 hours,” Dart wrote. “Those who are deemed to be too high a security risk to be in the community will be referred back to the court for further evaluation.”

Sheriff Dart’s announcement immediately prompted a federal class action filed by lead plaintiff Taphia Williams, who remained in jail at the time of her filing despite having posted bail three days before.

But U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber denied Williams’ motion for class certification on Wednesday, finding that the detainees’ individual circumstances predominate over class questions.

“While all the members of the proposed class were granted bond and then subsequently denied release, the specific facts surrounding each individual detention might warrant a different outcome,” Leinenweber said. “In other words, the constitutionality of each individual plaintiff’s detention – namely, whether Sheriff Dart violated his or her procedural due process right – is a question of fact requiring independent analysis and likely resulting in independent and varying outcomes.”

The judge supported his conclusion by pointing to the fact that not all detainees were denied immediate placement on the EM program, and so suffered no delay in their release.

Leinenweber also dismissed Williams’ equal protection claim, leaving only her due process claim to move forward.

“The crux of plaintiffs’ claims is that Sheriff Dart’s policy discriminates against African Americans from obtaining home confinement relief, as compared to similarly situated pretrial detainees, not Chicago’s population in its entirety,” the 27-page opinion states. “Without that context, [the complaint] merely asserts that African Americans comprise eighty percent of individuals detained pursuant to Sheriff Dart’s policy, which, albeit suspicious at first glance, is insufficient to claim discriminatory purpose.”

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