When ac­cused mur­der­ers are re­leased on elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing, some­thing is dan­ger­ously wrong

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - JESSE JACK­SON jjack­son@rain­bow­push.org | @RevJJack­son

Public safety re­lies on an ar­ray of po­lice, prose­cu­tors, judges, ap­pel­late courts and elected of­fi­cials work­ing smoothly to­gether to en­sure the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem is re­spon­si­ble and fair.

But the gears don’t ap­pear to be mesh­ing prop­erly in Cook County — some­thing is clearly wrong — when it comes to re­cent bond and elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing re­forms, which are in­tended as alternativ­es to keep­ing sus­pects locked up in jail while await­ing trial.

Most trou­bling? Some peo­ple charged with mur­der have been go­ing home on elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing.

We had bet­ter fix this.

Mur­der, rob­bery and guns

On Sun­day, Frank Main of the Sun-Times re­ported that the num­ber of sus­pects freed from jail this year to await trial in­cluded more than 1,000 peo­ple charged with mur­der, rob­bery or il­le­gal pos­ses­sion of guns. On Aug. 9, the county’s elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing pro­gram in­cluded 43 peo­ple fac­ing mur­der charges. That’s 40% more than on the same day last year.

We’re guess­ing that most peo­ple who have sup­ported the greater use of elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing, as op­posed to the hold­ing of th­ese sus­pects in jail, have as­sumed the ben­e­fi­cia­ries would not in­clude a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of mur­der sus­pects. In a flip-flop that can only be called star­tling, the most com­mon charge sus­pects on elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing faced in 2016-2017 was drug pos­ses­sion. Since 2018, it has been gun pos­ses­sion.

Bail re­form mea­sures over the last sev­eral years have been jus­ti­fied — and we thought sin­cerely were in­tended — as a way to pre­vent low-level of­fend­ers from lan­guish­ing in jail be­cause they couldn’t come up with a small amount of money for bail. Poverty should not be a fac­tor in who is jailed. And the ex­pan­sion of elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing was pur­sued as a way to al­le­vi­ate jail over­crowd­ing.

But over time, peo­ple charged with more se­ri­ous of­fenses have been re­leased from jail.

The quick­est way to sub­vert the prom­ise of de-in­car­cer­a­tion — to turn sup­port­ers of re­form into op­po­nents — is to re­lease on elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing peo­ple who, re­ally and truly, should be held be­hind bars.

Blame game never helps

We’d feel more con­fi­dent that this prob­lem will be fixed if our lo­cal of­fi­cials spoke with one voice, ex­plain­ing how they’re work­ing to­gether to make us safer and the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem more fair. But, in­stead, we’ve seen a lot of blame go­ing around.

Af­ter the re­cent loot­ing in Chicago, Mayor Lori Light­foot and Po­lice Supt. David Brown made the ar­gu­ment, based on scant ev­i­dence, that the prob­lem was fu­eled in part by too many peo­ple go­ing right back onto the streets af­ter be­ing ar­rested for se­ri­ous crimes. They put the blame, that is to say, on prose­cu­tors and the courts.

Brown also has said that many of those be­ing set free on elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing are re­spon­si­ble for the steep rise in killings this year in Chicago. Cook County State’s At­tor­ney Kim Foxx, how­ever, dis­putes this, point­ing out that only 26 of the more than 1,800 peo­ple ar­rested for il­le­gal gun pos­ses­sion in the first six months of 2020 were re­peat of­fend­ers.

The divi­sions go beyond those among Light­foot, Brown and Foxx. There’s also a deep lack of trust be­tween Light­foot and some cops on the street. And the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice has started tak­ing gun cases di­rectly from Chicago po­lice, with­out go­ing through Foxx’s of­fice.

As for Cook County Sher­iff Tom Dart, who was the first sher­iff in the na­tion to call for the end of cash bail, he was promptly sued when he sug­gested that judges re­con­sider some cases in which they had put sus­pects on elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing.

It’s easy to look for scape­goats, in Chicago and else­where, when crime rates soar. But it gets us nowhere.

A re­sponse to COVID-19

The idea be­hind elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing is that sus­pects can stay at home in­stead of in prison ex­cept when they go to work or school. The num­ber of peo­ple on mon­i­tor­ing has in­creased this year partly to keep COVID-19 from spread­ing.

But elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily pre­vent crimes. Sus­pects can com­mit ad­di­tional crimes in their homes or on their way to work or school or by dis­abling their an­kle bracelets or by sim­ply ig­nor­ing them. A re­cent Chicago Tri­bune anal­y­sis found that Foxx dropped charges in a large per­cent­age of cases in which sus­pects were ac­cused of vi­o­lat­ing elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing rules.

In one alarm­ing case, Dim­itris Horns, 18, cut off his an­kle bracelet, left his home and al­legedly shot a man in the face in En­gle­wood.

Fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing the pro­gram is that Dart over­sees many sus­pects on elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing while Chief Judge Ti­mothy Evans does so for pro­ba­tion and pre­trial cases. It might be wise to bring those re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to­gether into a cen­tral elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem that uses the most up-to-date tech­nol­ogy.

Up to now, the ex­pan­sion of elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing has not been ac­com­pa­nied by an in­crease in re­sources for the pro­gram. More than 3,330 peo­ple are now elec­tron­i­cally mon­i­tored, com­pared with about 2,200 last year, ac­cord­ing to Dart’s of­fice.

An elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem that frees ac­cused mur­der­ers from jail while they await trial is fun­da­men­tally ab­surd. We have sup­ported the larger aims of the de-in­car­cer­a­tion move­ment, and we will con­tinue to do so, but this had bet­ter get fixed.

In last week’s Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion, Joe Bi­den and Ka­mala Har­ris passed the char­ac­ter test. Now as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump rolls out his vir­tual con­ven­tion, they must ace the agenda test. They need to ar­gue the case for the bold agenda that this coun­try des­per­ately needs, and chal­lenge Trump for his pol­icy fail­ures.

The Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion fo­cused on the char­ac­ter test. Speaker af­ter speaker con­trasted the de­cency of Joe Bi­den against what Trump’s own sis­ter called the “phoni­ness” of Don­ald Trump, a man she said of “no prin­ci­ples, none.”

The con­ven­tion in­tro­duced Ka­mala Har­ris to the coun­try, high­light­ing her re­mark­able jour­ney from the child of im­mi­grants, the stu­dent at Howard Univer­sity, Cal­i­for­nia at­tor­ney gen­eral and sen­a­tor to the pres­i­den­tial ticket. Jill Bi­den demon­strated her com­mit­ment to fam­ily and to teach­ing.

The con­ven­tion dis­played the char­ac­ter of the party — its di­ver­sity, its in­clu­sive­ness, its con­cern for jus­tice. In pow­er­ful pre­sen­ta­tions, Michelle and Barack Obama made the case about why Trump is just not up to the job of pres­i­dent, par­tic­u­larly in a time of cri­sis. “It is what it is,” as Michelle con­cluded.

That left lit­tle time to ad­dress the agenda. It’s not that it does not ex­ist. The Demo­cratic plat­form — largely a prod­uct of the task forces put to­gether by Bi­den and Bernie San­ders — de­tails a broad, pro­gres­sive agenda for change. Bi­den’s own web page and speeches over the course of the nom­i­nat­ing process have pre­sented el­e­ments of his pro­gram. But no one but political junkies read party plat­forms, and few probe can­di­date web­sites. It is now up to Bi­den and Har­ris to lay out their case — and con­trast it with Trump’s failed ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The pri­or­i­ties are clear. In the im­me­di­ate short-term, Trump’s cat­a­strophic mis­man­age­ment of the pan­demic must be re­placed by a com­pre­hen­sive na­tional strat­egy to get the pan­demic un­der con­trol so lives are saved and the econ­omy can start up again.

The 30 mil­lion peo­ple who have been forced onto un­em­ploy­ment — dis­pro­por­tion­ately lower wage work­ers, dis­pro­por­tion­ately Black and His­panic — need im­me­di­ate as­sis­tance.

Trump and the Repub­li­can Se­nate stood in the way of the needed res­cue pack­age, ob­ject­ing to con­tin­u­ing the $600 a week en­hance­ment to un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, aid to the U.S. Postal Ser­vice to man­age the ex­pected surge in vot­ing by mail, aid to cities and states fac­ing mas­sive layoffs of po­lice, teach­ers, tran­sit work­ers and more af­ter their bud­gets were busted by the eco­nomic col­lapse and the costs of deal­ing with the pan­demic.

Al­ready an­other round of layoffs is ex­pected, and 20 to 30 mil­lion fam­i­lies are threat­ened with evic­tion or fore­clo­sure. Schools are strug­gling with re­open­ing with­out the re­sources needed to pay for the pro­tec­tions health of­fi­cials say are nec­es­sary. Yet, Trump and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell re­fused even to meet Demo­cratic House lead­ers half­way to get a bill done.

In the longer run, ma­jor changes are needed to make this econ­omy work for work­ing peo­ple.

We need a bold ini­tia­tive to re­build in­fra­struc­ture and make it sus­tain­able, a tran­si­tion to renewable en­ergy to fend off cli­mate change and cre­ate mil­lions of good jobs.

We need ma­jor in­vest­ment in sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy so Amer­ica can re­gain its lead in in­no­va­tion and job growth. We need a new trade strat­egy and in­dus­trial pol­icy that re­builds good jobs at home, en­sures we make es­sen­tial prod­ucts here in the U.S., and de­mands a bal­anced play­ing field from China and other coun­tries that tram­ple trad­ing rules.

At the same time, we need to en­sure that work­ers gain a fair share of the prof­its and pro­duc­tiv­ity that they help gen­er­ate. Bi­den has promised to lift the min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour. We need to em­power work­ers to or­ga­nize and crack down on la­bor rights abuses by cor­po­rate man­agers. The eco­nomic bill of rights for es­sen­tial work­ers should be de­tailed and read­ied for pas­sage.

Paid fam­ily leave and sick leave is vi­tal. Af­ford­able, high-qual­ity child care es­sen­tial for work­ing par­ents and their chil­dren.

The health care gap must be closed, with af­ford­able health care for all guar­an­teed. The ed­u­ca­tion gap must be closed, with re­sources for public schools from pre-K through col­lege. Bi­den has promised tu­ition­free ed­u­ca­tion for all stu­dents whose fam­i­lies earn less than $125,000 a year in con­trast to Trump’s lack of con­cern for the bur­den of mount­ing stu­dent debt. The wealth gap must be ad­dressed, with pro­gres­sive taxes help­ing to re­verse the ex­treme in­equal­ity that now threat­ens our democ­racy.

We must ad­dress the con­sti­tu­tional right to vote. The right to vote should be pro­tected, with restora­tion of the Vot­ing Rights Act, au­to­matic voter reg­is­tra­tion, ex­panded vote by mail and early vot­ing, an end to par­ti­san ger­ry­man­der­ing, and lim­its on big money in pol­i­tics. Bi­den should sup­port the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to guar­an­tee the right to vote in Amer­ica.

The sys­temic racism built into our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem must be re­dressed. Equal pay for women should no longer be an is­sue.

The pri­or­i­ties are many. Bi­den and Har­ris must be ag­gres­sive in putting forth their agenda, ex­plain­ing its im­port and de­fend­ing its el­e­ments. Trump has al­ready made it clear that his cam­paign will be based on lies and li­bels about the Demo­cratic agenda. He has al­ready called Bi­den the “pup­pet of the rad­i­cal left,” who wants to “de­fund the po­lice “and “abol­ish the sub­urbs.” He’ll bur­lesque the Demo­cratic agenda across the coun­try. It is vi­tal that Bi­den and Har­ris ar­gue their case. If they do, there is no ques­tion that they will ace the agenda test that Trump has al­ready failed. They have lit­tle more than two months to get that done.

The Univer­sity of North Carolina aban­doned in-per­son classes at the first sign of in­fec­tions on cam­pus. The Univer­sity of Notre Dame and Michi­gan State punted even be­fore they got started.

There are dozens of large in­sti­tu­tions plan­ning to hold in-per­son ed­u­ca­tion, while the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Ur­banaCham­paign is us­ing a hy­brid model, mix­ing in-per­son and on­line classes. Can the U. of I. suc­ceed where so many others have and will fail?

With their fre­quent test­ing plan in place, they have a good chance to suc­ceed.

When stu­dents first show up on cam­pus, even a mod­est pos­i­tiv­ity rate of 2% will re­sult in 500 to 900 ini­tial in­fec­tions. The key to success is pre­vent­ing such in­fec­tions from spread­ing un­fet­tered across cam­pus and into the lo­cal com­mu­nity, par­tic­u­larly to at-risk peo­ple.

Proven public health prac­tices that re­duce the spread of the virus are crit­i­cal on all cam­puses. Th­ese in­clude guide­lines re­quir­ing face cov­er­ings, phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing, and hand hy­giene, sup­ple­mented with iso­la­tion and con­tact trac­ing as needed.

If 80% or more of the stu­dents com­ply with th­ese prac­tices, the com­mu­nity ba­sic re­pro­duc­tion num­ber — the av­er­age num­ber of peo­ple to whom an in­fected per­son spreads the virus — can fall be­low one. At that a point, new in­fec­tion growth will be at­ten­u­ated, ef­fec­tively al­low­ing com­mu­nity trans­mis­sion to be con­trolled though iso­la­tion and con­tact trac­ing. Most uni­ver­si­ties are em­ploy­ing such tech­niques

Test­ing, test­ing, and more test­ing is the road to the promised land for in-per­son ed­u­ca­tion. Test­ing al­lows cam­puses to map the in­fec­tion land­scape, iden­ti­fy­ing the nu­mer­ous asymp­to­matic stu­dents who can fo­ment com­mu­nity trans­mis­sion on cam­pus and into the lo­cal com­mu­nity. Rapid turn­around of the test re­sults is crit­i­cal, par­tic­u­larly with so many asymp­to­matic in­fec­tions, since the value of tests fall pre­cip­i­tously within 24 hours.

Many schools are test­ing stu­dents only upon their ar­rival to cam­pus, and one week later. Then they are wait­ing for stu­dents to show symp­toms be­fore they test again. This strat­egy is a for­mula for dis­as­ter, given that a ma­jor­ity of in­fected stu­dent will be asymp­to­matic or dis­play only mild symp­toms.

The game changer at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois is the rapid saliva test­ing pro­to­col that they de­vel­oped, sim­i­lar to the test de­vel­oped at Yale Univer­sity and be­ing em­ployed by the NBA. This al­lows thou­sands of tests to be ad­min­is­tered each day and de­liver the re­sults within hours. With such wide­spread sur­veil­lance of cam­pus-wide in­fec­tions, the univer­sity can limit in­fec­tion out­breaks, with iso­la­tion and quar­an­tine of in­fected and ex­posed stu­dents. Ev­ery per­son on cam­pus must be tested twice per week, or they will be de­nied ac­cess to univer­sity build­ings based on a univer­sity-de­vel­oped app track­ing sys­tem.

The Univer­sity of Illi­nois test­ing strat­egy rep­re­sents 20% of all tests ad­min­is­tered in the state of Illi­nois and 1.5% of all tests ad­min­is­tered na­tion­wide. If the 50 largest uni­ver­si­ties in the coun­try used the saliva test, the num­ber of tests na­tion­wide could dou­ble. More im­por­tantly, the test would be catch­ing asymp­to­matic in­fec­tions, the most deadly virus spread­ers.

Like all suc­cess­ful strate­gies, the devil is in the de­tails. The univer­sity must de­liver on pro­vid­ing the re­sults of their saliva test within hours. Any de­lays can spawn com­mu­nity trans­mis­sion, as in­fected peo­ple may un­know­ingly spread the virus.

The big­ger chal­lenge is stu­dent ad­her­ence and buy-in to the test­ing sys­tem. With most in­fected stu­dents ei­ther asymp­to­matic or with mild symp­toms, a pos­i­tive test is more of an in­con­ve­nience to their ed­u­ca­tion and so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties than a health risk. Stu­dents who side­step the univer­sity test­ing sur­veil­lance sys­tem un­der­mine its pur­pose and ef­fec­tive­ness. Such ac­tions will lead to more com­mu­nity trans­mis­sion, re­sult­ing in surges of new cases, po­ten­tially forc­ing the cam­pus to move all classes on­line.

The stu­dents will make or break the Univer­sity of Illi­nois test­ing and sur­veil­lance sys­tem. Stu­dents now know that if they cir­cum­vent the rec­om­men­da­tions, they jeop­ar­dize the in-per­son com­po­nent of their ed­u­ca­tion, just as was seen at the Univer­sity of North Carolina. The stu­dents carry the re­spon­si­bil­ity for keep­ing the Univer­sity of Illi­nois in-per­son com­po­nent alive. They must make in­di­vid­ual choices with com­mu­nity-wide im­pli­ca­tions.

The univer­sity hopes that they choose wisely.

Shel­don H. Ja­cob­son, Ph.D., is a founder pro­fes­sor of Com­puter Sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Ur­bana-Cham­paign. He ap­plies his ex­per­tise in risk-based as­sess­ment to eval­u­ate and in­form public pol­icy.

Janet A. Jokela, M.D., MPH, is the act­ing re­gional dean of the Univer­sity of Illi­nois Col­lege of Medicine at Ur­bana-Cham­paign. She has served as an in­fec­tious dis­ease and public health con­sul­tant through­out her ca­reer.


An elec­tronic an­kle bracelet used in Kane County in 2009.


For­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris at the con­ven­tion last week.


The Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Ur­bana-Cham­paign cam­pus.

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