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Cook County Officials Agree Too Many Minor Criminals End Up In Jail

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Four top Cook County officials offered a wide spectrum of opinions Thursday as they talked about resolving problems in the criminal justice system, though all agreed too many people charged with minor crimes end up locked up in jail.

At a City Club of Chicago forum, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart complained there are too many people who have committed low-level crimes – like stealing candy bars – sitting in Cook County Jail for months before they face trial.

Chief Judge Timothy Evans suggested the problem is not that simple.

"Many of the people who you hear about, who are charged with the theft of six or seven candy bars, have a long criminal history, where they have been convicted of attempted murder," he said.

Dart said that's not what he's talking about.

"When I talk about the retail thieves, I look at their backgrounds. Their entire background, with an occasional anomaly, is all retail theft. It's not as if retail theft, homicide, retail theft … no," he said.


Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said there's also a racial dimension to the situation of non-violent defendants languishing in jail.

"Eighty-six percent of the people in the jail are black and brown, and they are there largely because they can't pay their bonds, because we have a cash bond system," she said. "So when we're talking about criminal justice in this country, we have to understand that we're talking about race and class."

However, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said you also need to consider those who commit violent crimes, as well as their victims.

"Our victims are minorities. That's who's being shot, that's who's being killed, and I know people don't like to talk about it, but I think we have to talk about it," she said.

All four officials agreed the jail population needs to be reduced, and minor criminals kept out of courts.

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