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Home > Press Page

”Rocket Docket” Pilot Program to Reduce Cook County Jail Population

Monday, June 1, 2015 Two state legislators are working with the Cook County Sheriff to address unjust incarceration through a new pilot project court program designed to resolve some criminal cases more quickly.

Senate Bill 202, sponsored by Rep. Mike Zalewski and Sen. Bill Cunningham in partnership with Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart, would create a two-year pilot program called the Accelerated Resolution Court – or “rocket docket” – in Cook County. There, defendants charged with low-level retail thefts or criminal trespassing would have to be disposed of within 30 days from assignment by the presiding judge, down from 120 days currently.

Inmates eligible for the rocket docket must not have any prior conviction for one of a number of violent crimes in the past decade, including murder, criminal sexual assault, armed robbery or any firearm offenses. If the case is not resolved within 30 days, defendants must be released on their own recognizance or electronic monitoring and follow a number of conditions of release that include not leaving the state without court permission and appearing at all court dates.

The bill has passed the Illinois House and Senate by large margins and now awaits the governor’s signature. It would become effective July 1 and run through June 30, 2017.

Dart conceived of the concept after a thorough analysis of Cook County Jail’s population showed an alarming number of inmates unable to pay nominal bonds and languishing in jail for many months despite being charged with low-level, nonviolent crimes. The average cost to incarcerate one person at Cook County Jail is $143 per day, typically more than the value of what the retail theft defendants are charged with stealing. He worked with Zalewski and Cunningham as part of a broader push in Springfield to rebalance criminal sentencing, with huge overcrowding problems facing the state prison system.

“This is a good first step to rethinking how our criminal justice system works to punish and correct unlawful behavior,” said Zalewski, D-Riverside. “We will watch this pilot project closely these next two years and hope to see many people not languish in our jails but get a swift sentence and then the help they need to avoid making the same mistake again.”

“We need to do more in Springfield to ensure dangerous criminals are locked up while those charged with petty offenses aren't needlessly slowing down the justice system,” said Cunningham, D-Chicago. “Working with Sheriff Dart and Rep. Zalewski, we have put a good framework in place to speed up the process for these low- level crimes that hopefully will present more opportunities to rebalance our system.”

“Jails should be reserved for violent offenders who pose threats to society, not homeless and mentally ill people committing crimes of survival,” said Dart. “This legislation will help alleviate both the humanitarian and fiscal toll of unjust incarceration. I want to thank Rep. Zalewski and Sen. Cunningham for their hard work on this issue, as well as the members of the House and Senate for their support on this commonsense measure.”

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez offered ongoing input and assistance to the Sheriff in the drafting and passage of the bill and she thanked him for his leadership in this effort.

"I am very proud to have worked with Sheriff Dart on this important initiative, which will help to make our criminal justice system more efficient, cost effective and fair," Alvarez said. "I believe that this measure will serve all of these goals by helping to move cases involving low-level offenders to a speedier resolution, which will save taxpayer money and enable us to focus our resources on violent crime and gun violence."

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