Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Tim Evans pushed back on criticisms of the county’s electronic monitoring program Thursday, following Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s comments last week faulting the court system as the area contends with an increase in violent crime.
Evans discussed the program in an address to the Union League Club of Chicago on Thursday afternoon, more than four years after he embarked on a push to release more accused offenders as they await trial.
“Of course, as desirable as it might be in this crime crisis that we face to keep dangerous individuals behind bars, we still have to do so by providing those accused of committing these horrendous crimes the due process of law,” Evans said, adding, “One’s liberty in our system of government is precious.”
Evans said that the number of people on electronic monitoring as of Thursday was around 2,500 – a drop from last summer when there were about 3,500 people in the program.
More than 800 of the individuals currently on electronic monitoring are facing various gun charges, 214 as armed habitual criminals and 109 on murder or attempted murder charges, the latest numbers show.
But as Cook County registered a record 1,002 gun-related homicides in 2021, the practice has drawn intense criticism from Chicago police, Cook County officials and Lightfoot herself.
“I believe that having 2,300 violent offenders out on the streets makes our communities less safe, sends exactly the wrong message to victims and witnesses who are seeing these people back out on the street just after they’ve been charged and it looks like there’s no justice for the victims and witnesses,” Lightfoot said when asked about electronic monitoring at an unrelated appearance on Jan. 18.
Evans said Thursday that he prays for Lightfoot but insisted his bail reform effort is not what drives violent crime, pointing to the right to due process enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
“Our system does not permit the accuser to be the judge,” he said.
Evans cited a study of 111,000 cases, in which he said 81% of those released while awaiting trial committed no crimes, and of those who did, only 5% were violent.
“That means 95% did not get arrested for a violent crime,” Evans said.
Evans also said that no one charged with murder or attempted murder has been added to the electronic monitoring program since October 2021 - and noted that the program itself is not intended to stand alone, nor is it his preferred approach.
"I would prefer not to have electronic monitoring," Evans said. "I believe therapy is better."
Still, Evans admitted that many communities are living in fear – but his message remained that electronic monitoring is not to blame.
"As the court attempts to carry out its responsibilities, I want to rush to say: We have not found it necessary to scapegoat any of our fellow stakeholders in the criminal justice process," Evans said. "We might differ from time to time. But I think that you can easily say that we all share the same objective and that is to have a safe and peaceful community."
“I’m saying that we need to work together,” he later added. “Pointing fingers at each other is not going to solve the problem.”