A comprehensive analysis of the Cook County Pretrial Services Program by the Illinois Supreme Court has proposed 40 recommendations, including a reorganization of how pretrial services is managed, supervised and staffed.
The Pretrial Services Program was established by statute in order to provide guidance to judges when they are called upon to set bond for defendants who have been charged with felony and misdemeanor crimes.
In effect, the program treats people accused of crimes to be placed on a sort of pre-trial probation. Defense attorneys generally see the need for a systemic attitude change that goes beyond the recommendation of the Supreme Court - each person placed on pre-trial services reporting as part of their bond is innocent until proven guilty, and assigning pre-trial services often feels like punishment before a finding of guilty.
The Chicago area criminal defense attorneys at Fagan, Fagan & Davis focus on the defense of felony and misdemeanor offenses in courthouses in Cook County, Lake County and DuPage County.
The report identified systemic shortcomings including: technology, automation, leadership, and management. Specifically, the report said that the pretrial services operation lacks the authenticity of verified reports on defendants. As a result, the the Pretrial Services Program is not being used by judges, prosecutors, public defenders and the sheriff's department regarding the setting of bond for defendants or when the issue of eligibility for electronic monitoring devices arises.
"The report contains multiple recommendations across a broad array of policy areas," Chief Justice Rita B. Garman said. "The purpose of the report is to facilitate movement toward meaningful change in pretrial structure and operations, including systemic improvements in information sharing, communication and training."
The report was forwarded to Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans of the Cook County Circuit Court, as well as to court and county principals who have been part of an ongoing process to improve pretrial services, the bond process, and probation in the Cook County Circuit Court system. The Supreme Court is hopeful that any improvements can be implemented in courts throughout the state of Illinois.
Additional positions requested
The Supreme Court directed the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC) to conduct the pretrial services review after a request by Chief Judge Evans to fund 15 additional probation officer positions to supplement pretrial services in Cook County was deferred. The report was researched and written by a 12-member review team, which observed bond court and pretrial services operations in Cook County and conducted some 147 interviews with stakeholders and staff.
Currently, pretrial services operations are conducted under the authority of statute which requires Circuit Courts in Illinois to establish a pretrial services agency. The pretrial service agency is charged with providing accurate background data regarding the pretrial release of persons charged with felonies. The statute also requires that pretrial services agencies be independent divisions of the circuit courts, supervised by a director appointed by and accountable to the chief judge. In Cook County, the number of pretrial services staff positions has fallen from 179 back in 1990 to current level of 104.
The report point out that the organizational structure of the Pretrial Services Program is "inadequate to provide effective management" due to the fact that managers are required to split time between probation and pretrial matters with the primary focus on probation. The report recommended a reorganization to include a separate Pretrial Services Division under the Adult Probation Department with designated pretrial personnel including managers, supervisors and officers with infrastructure and resources to support programs and training. Another recommendation suggested that the Central Bond Court in Cook County be staffed around the clock, seven days a week.
The analysis noted that information regarding defendants "is generally dismissed or minimized" by judges, prosecutors, public defenders and the sheriff "because of a lack of confidence." The information is obtained through interviews with the defendants and reports from law enforcement agencies. This information is usually not verified "so the response from stakeholders and judges was understandable," the analysis stated. The study cited inconsistent collection of statistical reports, antiquated technology and the absence of a coordinated data sharing process and data request protocols among the various stakeholders.
Time of great opportunity
The analysis emphasized the need for cooperation among all the stakeholders. "Unless there is a commitment amongst stakeholders to delve into these issues, reach consensus of resolutions and act to implement collaborative organizational and operational policies and practices in the pretrial and the bond court process, strictly adding positions will be minimally effective," the report stated. "While challenges exist, this is also a time of great opportunity."
In her letter of transmittal Chief Justice Garman said the Supreme Court is committed to working to ensure the success of Cook County Pretrial Services Program, including the dedication of AOIC staff to provide technical assistance and guidance to ensure the implementation of the recommendations.
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