Over the last year and a half (during the COVID pandemic) there has been a 30% increase in the use of ankle monitors to keep track of criminal defendants. The issue was related to the COVID pandemic and the ability of the prisons to keep prisoners safe from the infection. Prisons and jails tend to be rife with infections, and keeping infections at bay can be costly and difficult. Meanwhile, counties and prisons are responsible for inmates and can be held liable for failing to ensure their health and safety.
During the pandemic, Cook County opted to place more individuals on ankle bracelets than keep them in holding centers. Many have been on ankle monitors for over a year while awaiting something to happen. Part of the problem is that those released on ankle monitors have already paid hefty bail prices meaning that they will be taxed doubly for the same crime. It is not surprising that the majority of those facing this problem are Black. However, a growing number of defendants on ankle monitors are also accused of violent crimes, occasionally murder. This ensures that no matter what side of the aisle you fall on, you can recognize the inherent shortcomings in this process.
Ankle Monitors, House Arrest, and County Jails
Ostensibly, being released on an ankle monitor is considerably better than awaiting trial in a holding cell. Holding centers are dangerous, unhealthy, and uncomfortable. Homes are safe and warm. While being pent up inside all day may not be ideal, it is quite a bit better than spending 24 hours a day locked up in a tiny cell.
However, society recognizes that not all criminal defendants should be placed into a position where they can potentially harm others. Generally, however, the rationale behind bail was that the state needed to ensure that the defendant would show up for trial. It was not a matter of either public safety or punishment. It is now, to be sure. But the reason for the system is to ensure that defendants show up for trial.
Bail and Legal Issues
The bail system is what it is. It benefits the rich because they can easily pay their way out of holding. Meanwhile, those who are poor often are required to serve out their potential sentences while they are awaiting trial. This means those convicted of violent crimes like rape and murder may still be able to pay their way out of holding, while others facing trivial charges will need to remain behind bars. Alternatives to the cash bail system include the potential for ankle monitors to be employed in the majority of criminal cases. But many are averse to the notion because it could mean that potential murderers are out on the streets. Meanwhile, rich murderers are still allowed out on the streets unless the prosecution can successfully argue that they are a danger to themselves or others, a flight risk, or have the resources to flee the country. In the OJ Simpson murder trial, OJ was denied bail on the basis that capital defendants cannot be afforded bail. He was awarded bail for the robbery charges a decade later.
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