Cook County electronic monitoring program, used widely, slammed in new report

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner WLS logo
Saturday, September 25, 2021
New report slams widely used Cook County electronic monitoring program
An 18-page report slams the Cook County electronic monitoring program widely in use.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There are more than three thousand people charged with crimes right now wearing ankle bracelets in Cook County so authorities can keep track of them; a more than 30-percent spike in electronic monitoring here the last year and a half. Many have been on monitors for a year or more. All of it is the target of a biting new report.

"Ultimately electronic monitoring is often billed as an alternative to incarceration. And what we've learned is that it's really an alternative form of incarceration, that's causing people to be blocked in their homes, often 24/7," said Sarah Staudt with the Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts.

Who is locked up at Cook County jail awaiting trial and who is released on a GPS-linked electronic monitor, was the focus of a investigation by the Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts, a non-partisan research organization that advocates for an equitable and accessible legal system. Their data reviewed by the I-Team reveals almost three-quarters of those on electronic monitoring are Black; and eight of every ten people released to home confinement in Cook County also had to pay a cash bond to get out of jail.

"Which is just a double punishment that isn't helping anyone. We also found that most people who are on electronic monitoring, are extremely successful, and are often extremely successful for a long period of time, that probably isn't necessary to keep them on the program," said Staudt.

Sheriff Tom Dart administers the nation's largest pre-trial electronic monitoring system. A Dart spokesman tells the I-Team that judges place accused criminals on the bracelet, and that it's not a long-term fix for rising violence. As the I-Team has reported and Dart's office notes: 75-percent of those on electronic monitoring face violent crime charges, dozens are accused of murder and ordered released anyway.

"We should think about what it looks like to pull back on a program that's causing so much harm in our communities, and move towards a system where people who are free pretrial really are free, and are able to pursue their lives to the fullest," said Staudt.

Thursday and Friday we asked Chief Cook County Judge Tim Evans for his response to the critical evaluation of electronic home monitoring. On both days a spokesperson for Judge Evans said that they were still reviewing the 18-page report.

Full statement from the office of the Cook County Sheriff:

"The judiciary orders people to electronic monitoring, determines how long they stay in the program, and places restrictions on their movement. The report mirrors many of the complaints the Sheriff's Office has had for years about how the program is used. The population on EM has grown significantly and it is not a solution for the very real public safety and criminal justice issues we face in Chicago. The truth is more than 75% of those on electronic monitoring are facing violent charges, including 96 charged with murder, 131 charged with sexual assault, and 254 charged with armed habitual criminal. The Sheriff's Office does its best to operate an EM program that enforces court orders aimed at preventing new crimes and ensuring defendants don't flee their criminal charges, while not being unduly restrictive. Allegations in this report that the Sheriff's EM program routinely is excessively and unnecessarily punitive are simply baseless."