MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge awards $1.85M grant to Cook County justice system

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded a $1.85 million grant today to the Cook County justice system to safely reduce the jail population, divert certain nonviolent offenders from the court system and track efforts to remind defendants about future court dates.

The announcement comes on the heels of an order that Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans entered to provide cash bail to defendants in amounts they can afford. The order took effect on September 18 in the Circuit Court of Cook County and also requires a bail review for detained defendants within seven days of their first court appearance.

“I envision a justice system that detains defendants who pose a danger to our communities and releases defendants who pose no danger, are presumed innocent and can be trusted to return to court based on a validated risk assessment,” Chief Judge Evans said. “Working together, all of the system stakeholders have stepped forward to reduce and change the makeup of the jail population. We also seek support from community-based partners, and the MacArthur Foundation continues to answer the call for the people of Cook County.”

Cook County was first selected to join the Safety and Justice Challenge Network in 2015, after a competitive selection process that drew applications from nearly 200 jurisdictions in 45 states and territories. Today, Cook County is one of eight counties selected for additional funding based on the promise and progress of work to date.

Through their participation in the Safety and Justice Challenge, the Cook County stakeholders developed several concrete plans for shifting away from over-incarceration. The plans included: bail reviews, which have now been implemented via Chief Judge Evans’ bail order; agreements between prosecutors and defense attorneys to ask judges to release certain misdemeanor defendants on individual-recognizance bonds; and a partnership between Cook County Health & Hospitals System and the Chicago Police Department to divert certain nonviolent offenders away from the court system and into treatment.

The stakeholder group consists of Chief Judge Evans, President Toni Preckwinkle, Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown, Public Defender Amy Campanelli, Sheriff Tom Dart and State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. The Office of the Chief Judge serves as the lead stakeholder in the partnership with the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge. For this initiative, the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County Health & Hospitals System have joined the stakeholder group.

The grant from the MacArthur Foundation will fund: a project director, administrative assistant and community outreach coordinator; one full-time and six part-time data analysts to study how the stakeholders’ efforts are affecting the number of people in jail and the makeup of the jail population; outreach efforts to hold forums with community members and treatment providers to provide feedback on the stakeholders’ efforts; and implicit bias training for prosecutors, public defenders and police officers.

The data analysts will study how Chief Judge Evans’ bail order is carried out. Analysts will also monitor a county-funded initiative that starts in December in which pretrial defendants will have the option to receive automated phone calls and cellphone text messages to remind them of future court dates. The goal is to reduce the number of times defendants miss court dates and receive arrest warrants and possible jail time for failing to appear in court. In 2016, 14,003 warrants were issued for failures to appear – of which 3,760 (2,521 misdemeanors and 1,239 felonies) resulted in arrest. Such arrests further complicate a defendant’s legal circumstances.

In addition, the grant will fund a pilot program that starts in March 2018 in which certain nonviolent offenders will be diverted from the court system and instead receive community-based treatment for substance abuse and mental health disorders. Under the pilot program, the Cook County Health & Hospitals System and the Chicago Police Department will work together to develop a plan to screen eligible offenders. If deemed appropriate, an individual would have the opportunity to immediately begin a treatment program.

More information about the Safety and Justice Challenge and the work underway in Cook County can be found at

The following officials issued these statements regarding today’s announcement:

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle: “I am delighted that Cook County has submitted a winning proposal for funding under MacArthur’s Safety and Justice Challenge. Our success reflects years of progress toward rightsizing our criminal justice system. We have pursued every possible pathway to reform, from legislation to restore judicial discretion and reduce harsh penalties to data driven rethinking of our priorities. Through County Care, we have used the power of the Affordable Care Act to bring health care to every community and effectively divert residents from the justice system. I commend our criminal justice stakeholders for their hard work and commitment to protecting and serving every community.”
Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown: “This is a very important time for criminal justice reform in Cook County and the entire United States. The MacArthur grant will help the Circuit Court of Cook County to keep pace with the changing technology and address the serious criminal justice issues we are facing, to ensure all people are treated equally.”

Public Defender Amy P. Campanelli: “The MacArthur Foundation grant recognizes the strides we are making here in Cook County. For years, there was an overreliance on the jail to hold people who should never have been there, coercing them to plead guilty in order to return to their families, their work and their lives. Bond court reform is now a reality, with the Chief Judge’s order that any required cash bail be set at an amount that the accused can afford. With this grant, our efforts in setting reasonable bail, in diverting those who are nonviolent out of the criminal court system, and in considering the humanity of those who have been arrested, is validated. The MacArthur Foundation grant supports the collaborative work of all the criminal court stakeholders and confirms what we already know – that the vast majority of the people arrested in Cook County, who are my clients, should remain in their communities, working and supporting their families, while they fight the charges against them.” 

Sheriff Tom Dart: “As I’ve said for many years, the criminal justice system here and around the country is broken – too often it locks up the poor and mentally ill and disproportionately disrupts communities. The MacArthur grant will help Cook County implement thoughtful and evidence-based reform. I look forward to working with all of the stakeholders to introduce these programs.”

State’s Attorney Kimberly M. Foxx: “The stakeholders have worked together to make real progress on reforming the bond process in Cook County. This support from the MacArthur Foundation will be critical to implementing, evaluating and expanding those efforts. We look forward to continuing to work together towards a pretrial process that is more fair and efficient.”

Dr. Jay Shannon, CEO of Cook County Health & Hospitals System: “We know that many patients who are detained in jail are charged with offenses related to behaviors they exhibited during a mental health crisis, such as disorderly conduct, battery or trespassing, but jail is not a therapeutic treatment environment. With this pilot program, we will be able to connect with individuals in need of comprehensive care to interrupt the cycle of criminal justice involvement that we see all too often with people who have mental illness. This grant supports CCHHS’s broader work to create a multipronged approach to help address complex, persistent mental and substance-related health conditions that affect so many in our community.” 


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