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"Rocket Docket" Law Aiming To Keep Low-Level Defendants From Languishing In Jail

CHICAGO (CBS) -- New legislation has opened the door for a plan to keep some low-level offenders from spending months in jail as they wait for their cases to make their way through the courts.

The new law creates a special court, dubbed the "rocket docket," for non-violent inmates charged with minor retail theft, or trespassing; many of whom now have to wait behind bars for months, because they cannot afford even a low bail.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said, under the new law, if such a case isn't resolved within 30 days, defendants must be released on their own recognizance, or on electronic monitoring.

"The case is still alive, so the case can be prosecuted. All it says is that we aren't going to allow these people to rot away in jails on insignificant cases, just because they can't come up with $100 or $200," he said. "It's not right. It's not what our system is about."


The measure only covers defendants never convicted of a violent crime, and Dart said many inmates fit that bill.

"We've had numerous cases where people, literally, had stolen a bar of soap, they've stolen two plums, and they have sat in our jail for 3, 4, 5 months at a time," he said.

The legislation passed by wide margins in the House and Senate, and Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the measure late last week.

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