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Interview With Max Suchan Of Chicago Community Bond Fund On Failure Of Judges To Implement Bond Reforms

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In September, Cook County adopted reforms to the system of money bond for pretrial detention. However, according to the Chicago Community Bond Fund, which has had a team of volunteer court watchers monitoring the implementation, results thus far have been fairly disappointing.

On this week’s “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, Max Suchan, a co-founder and director of operations for the Chicago Community Bond Fund (CCBF), joins the show to talk about the struggle to abolish money bond in communities in and around Chicago.

CCBF is a part of a local coalition, the Coalition to End Money Bond, which includes labor, legal advocacy, and faith-based organizations. They have put pressure on the city to reform the money bond system. Externally, Suchan said, the city also has noticed a national trend demanding reforms to the most racist practices in the criminal justice system.

Lawyers affiliated with the coalition launched a lawsuit last year that seeks a “declaratory judgment that Cook County’s bond-setting practices violate the Constitution; that actually they disproportionately impact people that don’t have money, and it’s a system that punishes people because they’re poor,” according to Suchan.

The order issued by Evans instructed judges to not set bond higher than what people can pay. Money may be a condition of release, but there needs to be a determination as to whether somebody should be held or released that does not involve money. Pretrial detainees are entitled to a review within 7 days if they were unable to immediately post bond.

“That’s important because oftentimes people get court dates a month, two months out,” Suchan said. “In order to actually revisit bond, a seven-day time is significant” because “most of the primary harms of incarceration happen within the first three days of arrest.”

It went into effect for felony cases on September 18. In January 2018, the order will apply to misdemeanor cases. The order is supposed to retroactively apply to thousands of cases where people are already in pretrial detention.

Evans replaced the six central bond judges and prepared them for the foundational shift in how bonds would be issued.

Every day in August, and every day last month after the order was issued, CCBF had a team of court watchers to monitor how judges implemented the order. The court watchers tracked what amount the person said they could pay, what amount was ultimately set for the bond, and whether it was an amount they could pay. They also documented whether people were getting views within seven days and what happened at those reviews.

“Over 1,000 people went to central bond court in Cook County, and over 350 of those people were given money bonds. Of that number, 110 people were given bonds in an amount higher than what they said they could pay. While this number is far less than what it would’ve been prior to September 18, it’s clear the order is still not being implemented as written and judges are still setting money bonds higher than what people can pay,” Suchan declared.”

“Of 180 cases that we’ve tracked of people that were given money bonds, within seven days, only half those people were able to post their bonds,” Suchan added. “Fewer than 10 percent were able to pay their bond at their review hearing. Most people are not getting review hearings at all.”

“More than 90 percent of cases that we’ve been tracking are not given bond reviews within the seven-day review period or after.”

“It’s very rare that I’m sitting in court, where I don’t see something particularly disturbing. It happens. That’s the norm. It’s not actually the exception,” Suchan shared.

For the most part, CCBF assists individuals who contact the fund for assistance. They posted four bonds last week, and when Suchan spoke to the show, there were bonds for three more individuals that CCBF was prepared to post.

While judges are using money bond at a lower rate, there is much, much more to do to reduce harm and correct injustices inherent in the system of money bond.

Listen to the interview with Max Suchan by clicking on the above player or by going here.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."