The population of Chicago's Cook County has dropped 10.4% since the first week of August and dipped below 5,000 for only the second time in nearly four decades, WBEZ reports. It’s a drop that experts are linking to Illinois’ historic elimination of cash bail on Sept. 18. The jail had 4,980 detainees as of Tuesday. The only time since the mid-1980s that the jail’s population was smaller was a 141-day stretch of 2020 as officials scrambled to combat a COVID-19 outbreak inside the facility. The bail measure bars detention of defendants unless they are deemed to pose a significant safety or flight risk. The law made Illinois the first U.S. state to remove money from decisions on whether to jail defendants ahead of their trial.
“Previously, if you were charged with felony drug possession or a felony theft charge, you could be held in jail until you posted your bond,” Loyola University Chicago criminologist David Olson said. “Now, none of those individuals can be held” unless the incident took place while they were on probation, parole or pretrial release for another crime. The jail population decline began more than a month before the law took effect Sept. 18. The population kept dwindling at a time of year the jail is usually swelling with inmates. The drop accelerated once cash bail was officially eliminated. The Lake County Adult Corrections Facility in north suburban Waukegan has also seen a sharp population decline. Supporters of the law ending cash bail feared judges would substitute electronic monitoring for jail detention but, so far, that doesn’t seem to be happening in Cook County. The drop in the Cook County Jail population is part of a long-term trend. Since 2010, that population has been cut roughly in half.