coronavirus

Emergency Bond Hearings Set for Detainees as Lightfoot Urges Screenings Be Part of Release Plans

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot urged Martin to ensure that each decision "be exercised with care" and that public health screenings "be part of any release decision"

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Emergency bond hearings are scheduled for several Cook County detainees Tuesday in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Judge Leroy K. Martin, Jr. is set to preside over hearings for detainees in seven categories after a petition filed by a group of public defenders sought for their release.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot urged Martin to ensure that each decision "be exercised with care" and that public health screenings "be part of any release decision."

"No one should be incarcerated if they are not a flight risk or a danger to the community, and never simply because they cannot afford to pay the cash bail," she wrote in an email Tuesday.

Cook County public defenders had petitioned for the release of "vulnerable people" detained at the Cook County Jail to "protect their health" during the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the detainees the public defenders suggested for release were older people or those with underlying health conditions - who are considered at higher risk of COVID-19 - any pregnant women, those being confined on misdemeanor charges, those being held on felony charges which are probationable or non-violent, those who could be out on bail but can't afford it, those confined over an arrest warrant or probation violation but who did not commit a violent crime, and those serving sentences who are eligible for release.

Faith leaders across the city have made similar calls for the detainees' release.

The Cook County Sheriff's office announced Sunday that a correctional officer at the jail tested positive for coronavirus. Two detainees also tested positive Monday.

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Last week, the jail received court orders to release about 100 “highly vulnerable” inmates who were deemed to be at high-risk for contracting the virus. The decision came after Sheriff Tom Dart banned all visitors from the jail, and Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans suspended most civil and criminal cases for 30 days.

Coronavirus has become a “get out of jail" card for hundreds of low-level inmates across the country, and even hard-timers are seeking their freedom with the argument that it's not a matter of if but when the deadly illness sweeps through tightly packed populations behind bars.

NBC Chicago/Chicago Sun-Times Media Wire
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