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“ROCKET DOCKET” BILL UNANIMOUSLY PASSES STATE SENATE COMMITTEE

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015The Illinois State Senate’s Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a “Rocket Docket” bill sought by Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart to move small-time, non-violent offenders more quickly through the Cook County Jail.

“These are people in on retail theft or criminal trespass charges – these are people traditionally looking for a place to sleep,” Dart testified. “They are staying for outrageous lengths of time. For the human side of this, these are not people that should be incarcerated for any length of time unless there is a compelling state reason.”

The Accelerated Resolution Court Act would establish a pilot program for non-violent offenders charged with retail theft under $300 or criminal trespass to have their cases resolved within a month.

If their case has not been disposed of in a month, they will be released from jail on their own recognizance.

The bill is aimed at people who lack the resources to make even a low bail therefore they sit in jail at a high cost to taxpayers, while the causes of their repeated arrests are not addressed. It often involves people with mental illnesses who have multiple arrests for the same petty crimes.

The bill would not apply to any of the serious defendants at the Cook County Jail awaiting trial on charges of murder, sexual assault or other violent crime.

Sheriff Dart has been posting on his website every week case studies of detainees who fit this profile: a pregnant woman most recently arrested for stealing plums and candy bars who has spent more than 200 nights in jail at a cost to taxpayers of more than $50,000; a diabetic most recently arrested for stealing eight packs of Snickers who has spent more than 1,000 nights in the jail at a cost of $160,000. Both have multiple arrests.

Long stays in the jail are not the right answer for people committing crimes of survival -- especially people with mental illness, Dart told committee members.

The bill, SB202, is sponsored by State Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago. Tuesday’s 10-0 bi-partisan committee vote moves the bill to the full senate.

Earlier on Tuesday, Cook County Jail Executive Director Cara Smith testified to the Senate Special Committee on Restorative Justice about the number of detainees driven from the jail to the Illinois Department of Corrections only to be turned around the same day because they had served their full sentences at the jail. Between Oct. 1 and March 31, 500 detainees served 27,570 "dead days" - days served in the Cook County Jail for which the defendant gets no credit. The cost to Cook County taxpayers for those "dead days" was $3.9 million. Officials of the Illinois Department of Corrections said they would work with the committee and jail officials on the problem.

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