Cook County Commissioner Proposes Using Taxpayer Dollars To Bail Low-Level Inmates Out Of Jail

11/14/2013 05:57 pm ET

With the high cost of housing inmates in the already overcrowded county jail, one Cook County commissioner has floated a surprising solution: Use taxpayer dollars to bail out low-level offenders.

Wednesday, Commissioner Larry Suffredin, a Democrat, proposed the idea of using tax dollars to start the “revolving bail-bond fund” which he says would ultimately mean big savings for taxpayers.

Suffredin says the program, which would provide loans for inmates ordered held on bonds of $2,000 or less, would ultimately pay for itself by reducing the $143 spent per inmate, per day, the Sun-Times reports.

“The whole idea is to save taxpayers money on that $143 a day it costs us to keep people warehoused in the jail,” Suffredin told CBS Chicago.

The proposal has support from the Cook County Sheriff's Office.

“We have people sitting [in jail] simply because they lack the ability to post even a low level of bond, without regard to their risk to public safety,” said a spokeswoman for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. “You shouldn’t be in prison simply because you are poor and lack the resources.”

According to WGN, it takes inmates an average 13 days to raise bail money; Suffredin says by extending bond loans of $2,000 or less, inmates could post bail in under three days, effectively saving taxpayers an average $1,400 in housing costs.

Currently, inmates receive the money posted for bail -- minus some fees -- once they're through with the court process. Under Suffredin's proposal, the county would effectively act as bail bondsman and would get the money back even if the inmate failed to show in court.

Among the stipulations of eligibility, only inmates charged with non-violent offenses who do not pose any flight risk would be eligible for the loan.

“This is not money we’re giving them for any benefit other than getting them out of jail,” Suffredin told the Sun-Times. “When your jail is pushing 10,000 [people] you need a safety valve.”

Both Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, too, is in favor of the proposal.

Philadelphia tried a similar strategy to Suffredin's proposal in the late '80s. Earlier this year, Cole County in central Missouri also enacted a similar program and released low-level offenders who did not post bail after three days.

County officials will now study the feasibility of the plan and report back next March.

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