Community Release with Support addresses root causes through services, partnership with Lawndale Christian Legal Center
(December 7, 2021) CHICAGO — The Bail Project announced today that it will spend $2.9 million to partner with Lawndale Christian Legal Center to link people coming out of jail to services for employment, housing, mental health, substance use, violence prevention, medical care and other social needs.
The goal is to strengthen public safety via social services, and the program will serve people released on individual-recognizance bonds after a bail hearing in the Circuit Court of Cook County. People released on individual recognizance-bonds (known as “i-bonds”) do not have to pay any money to leave jail, and they reside at home while their case awaits trial.
Today’s announcement is a response to the action by state lawmakers to eliminate cash bail in Illinois on January 1, 2023. The Bail Project program – Community Release with Support – helps clients attend future court dates as required while using a needs-based approach to interrupt cycles of arrest and incarceration.
The first client referrals to services will begin in April 2022.
“We applaud Illinois lawmakers for taking the necessary step to end a money-bail system that undermines the presumption of innocence and penalizes people for being poor. Nobody should be held in jail before trial simply because they lack money for their release, while others who have enough money can go home. But with more people who will be released from custody under the new law, the question is: What are we doing for them and their communities? The Bail Project chooses to serve and offer solutions,” said Robin Steinberg, CEO and founder of The Bail Project.
Community Release with Support is based on The Bail Project’s four years of experience working with people who have been released from jail and are awaiting their trial dates. Data on the myriad ways in which this population needs support and services informs the model’s approach to supporting people during the pretrial process.
“We will meet individual needs that have gone untreated for years. We will work to improve lives and reduce the likelihood that clients will have further criminal justice involvement. Our focus will always be improving the outcome for one person to strengthen public safety for all,” Steinberg said.
The pilot program in Cook County has the capacity to serve 3,000 people over a two-year period.
“Navigating the criminal justice system is daunting for anyone. Each person we connect with and support will strengthen our communities as we help position them for success, not only while their case is pending but after their case is over. This is the path forward that will ensure the peace and safety we desire for all of our communities,” said LCLC Executive Director Cliff Nellis. “We appreciate The Bail Project’s choice to partner with a community-based organization. A resourced community is able to connect people to the services they need to bring stability to their lives and families, reducing and healing the harm caused by crime and violence in our communities.”
Clients will choose to opt into the program, and The Bail Project and LCLC staff will meet with potential clients in the jail before their bail hearings to ask if they would like to engage in services. Referrals will also come from the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.
Matthew McFarland, Project Director for Community Release with Support at The Bail Project, will oversee the initiative. McFarland is a Cook County Drug Court graduate whose addictions included heroin, crack cocaine and benzodiazepine. He celebrates six years of sobriety this week.
“We’re focused on success,” McFarland said. “Success means improved outcomes for people like me, who struggle with underlying conditions that fuel negative behavior. Whether it’s addiction, poverty, unemployment, mental health, exposure to violence and trauma – you name it – any one of these realities contributes to the crime and violence we see every day in Chicago. I know that because I lived it. I was part of that life.”
“Today, we’re building a foundation to change it. Whether anybody supports the use of cash bail or not, it is ending in Illinois in one year. We at The Bail Project are stepping forward to partner with Lawndale Christian Legal Center to reach people who would benefit from the type of intervention I received. And they need it here, in the community. We’re going to provide the support many of them have never had. We’re going to show them how they alone control their actions and reactions,” McFarland said.
Cook County Public Defender Sharone R. Mitchell Jr. applauded the public safety initiative and said: “My office thanks The Bail Project for making this investment in equitable and humane pretrial solutions in Chicago. And I commend them for working with the Lawndale Christian Legal Center to ensure a community-led approach to providing services for people who are arrested. Our city needs restorative justice programs like this one, which offer alternatives to pretrial incarceration and community-based solutions for violence prevention.”
The program will supplement the court’s existing court-reminder system by sending text messages to individuals to ensure that they are aware of when they need to attend court as required. The Bail Project will provide feedback to Cook County and State of Illinois officials regarding the program.