Illinois judge: Bail can't be too high for poor to pay

CHICAGO (AP) - A judge in Chicago on Monday signed an order changing the cash-bond system for one of the busiest judicial districts in the U.S. to help ensure suspects aren't held behind bars as they await trial solely because they're too poor to pay.

Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans' order applies only to suspects already found by a court not to pose a threat, requiring that judges set bail at amounts they can afford.

"Defendants should not be sitting in jail awaiting trial simply because they lack the financial resources to secure their release," Evans, who oversees more than 400 judges for Chicago and more than 120 suburbs, said in a written statement.

Between 250 and 300 people on average are jailed each day in Cook County simply because they can't post bonds of $1,000 or less, contributing to overcrowding in the 9,000-inmate county jail, the sheriff's department said earlier this year.

Critics long argued that bail procedures in Cook County were discriminatory, often stranding largely poor, minority defendants in jail as they await trial. Those calling for change have included Sherriff Tom Dart and Cook County's new state's attorney, Kim Foxx, who made bond reform a campaign issue last year.

The new policy takes effect for suspects charged with felonies on Sept. 18; it will apply to misdemeanor cases starting Jan. 1.

Judges can, as before, still deny bond entirely if they believe that a defendant is too dangerous or that nothing the court does will ensure the person won't flee.

Guidelines in Evans' order explain how judges can calculate the amount of bail that suspects can afford while also ensuring they show up for hearings. Judges could also release suspects on their own recognizance, or put defendants with no financial resources on electronic monitoring.