Cook County, IL

Change in Jail Population 33%

Action Areas Bail Community Engagement Courts Interagency Collaboration

Last Updated


When Cook County joined the Safety and Justice Challenge, people of color were disproportionately arrested and incarcerated at higher rates than white people. Siloed criminal justice data systems across the county also made it difficult for data to be analyzed across agencies in a timely fashion.

A subset of the jail population was comprised of individuals who cycled through the system due to unaddressed mental health and/or substance use needs. Barriers to living wage employment also led individuals to engage in narcotic distribution and subsequently, people were caught up in the criminal justice system.

The overuse of detention in jail caused disruption in the stability of the families and communities of those arrested, leading to higher re-arrest rates, producing worse case outcomes, and potentially causing life-long damage to families.


Since joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, Cook County has advanced a number of strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just, and equitable for all. In addition to reducing the jail population, the county is specifically addressing the barriers that keep people in jail before their trials begin.



To ensure people are not incarcerated just because they are poor, the county implemented bond reform in 2017 to allow people who did not pose a safety risk to the community to be released from jail while awaiting trial. Bond reform included use of the Pretrial Risk Assessment tool for felony and misdemeanor cases and decreasing the number and amounts of cash bonds required for pretrial release from jail.



To increase the successful appearance rate for people released pretrial and ensure more people knew exactly when they needed to appear back in court, an Automated Court Reminder System launched in December 2017 with calls and in March 2018 with text reminders.



The county created a multidisciplinary population review team, which reviews the cases of individuals detained in jail, identifies barriers to pretrial release, addresses those barriers when possible, and identifies larger systemic challenges that can be addressed through collaborative problem solving.



The Supporting Employment and Education Development (SEED) program was created for individuals charged with felony drug distribution. The program offers comprehensive services to help these individuals seek employment at a living wage and ultimately prevent actions that harm communities. The Frequently Impacted program was established to meet the needs of people being released and support their pretrial success via contracted peer re-entry navigators.



Measuring success is a matter of being able to understand what is happening in the jails. To increase the capacity to make smart, data-driven decisions, the county improved integrations between agency data systems and created a collaborative criminal justice dashboard.



The Cook County Racial and Ethnic Equity Workgroup (CCREEW) examines each strategy using an equity assessment process and makes recommendations to ensure equity in implementation. Strategic plans are developed with the voices of people with lived experience, and the county works with communities most impacted by the justice system to talk openly about solutions and move them forward.


As a result of the strategies above, Cook County has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning their criminal justice system.

Quartery ADP for Cook County (2016-2024)

33.3% from baseline

More Results

Specifically, Cook County has been able to reduce the local jail population without putting public safety at risk. In fact, rigorous analysis completed by the Office of the Chief Judge, the JFA Institute, and Loyola University Chicago all demonstrate that eliminating cash bail in the justice system has been both safe and effective in Cook County.

In the first six months after bond reform was implemented in Cook County, more than 3,500 more people received an I-Bond—meaning that they were released without bail—who would not have received one before. Because of I-Bonds and lower D-Bond amounts, defendants saved a total $31.4 million that could instead go toward rent, food, and other essentials to support themselves and their families. In addition, 500 more people were safely released back into the community while awaiting trial.

Community voice was critical to these results. In 2020-2021, the county engaged 264 community residents who participated in 31 small group dialogues, an increase from the 144 community residents who participated in 24 small group dialogues in 2019.

Remaining Challenges

While Cook County has made significant progress in reducing its jail population, the county aims to reduce it even further, and continue addressing the barriers that keep people in jail before their trials begin.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a set of completely new challenges for the Cook County justice system, but stakeholders remain firmly committed to driving forward toward the goals of the Safety and Justice Challenge. Through continued collaboration and data-driven decision making, stakeholders regularly review strategies to course-correct and adapt, even during the most challenging of circumstances.

Finally, Governor J.B Pritzker signed the SAFE-T act on February 2, 2021 which has significant implications for Illinois and Cook County. The abolishment of cash bail, law enforcement reforms, and other pretrial reforms are covered in the legislation and county stakeholders will have to collaboratively prepare for the impact of the significant changes.

Lead Agency

Office of the Chief Judge, Circuit Court of Cook County

Contact Information

Timothy C. Evans
Chief Judge, Circuit Court of Cook County

Rebecca Barboza
Project Director


Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Cook County Health, Cook County Justice Advisory Council, Cook County President’s Office, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, City of Chicago Mayor’s Office, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Chicago Police Department, Safer Foundation, Heartland Alliance, Loyola University Chicago, Alumni Association, NAMI, North Lawndale Employment Network, and Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC), Access Living, Chicago Survivors, Apostolic Church of God, Illinois Justice Project, Lawndale Christian Legal Center, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority

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