Cook County Seeks Consulting Services to Review Electronic Monitoring Practices

May 28, 2020

Changes could be coming to Cook County’s pretrial electronic monitoring program as the Cook County President’s Office looks to hire a consultant to examine best practices and potential alternatives to the way the Sheriff’s electronic monitoring program is currently run.

While the number of people detained in the Cook County Jail has decreased significantly since pretrial reform efforts in Cook County began in 2013,[1] the number of people ordered to Sheriff’s electronic monitoring (EM) as a condition of bail has increased significantly, and even more so since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. At its peak in 2013, the jail population stood at over 10,000 and the number of people on electronic monitoring (daily average) was 1,332, compared to just 503 in 2010. As of January 1, 2020, the jail population had fallen by nearly half to approximately 5,600 and the number of people on electronic monitoring had increased to over 2,300. With the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to avoid spread of the virus in the jail, the number of people in jail has fallen even further to 4,268[2] and the number of people on electronic monitoring has increased to 3,197.

The Sheriff announced on May 7, 2020 that his office had run out of electronic monitoring ankle bracelets, and would therefore be holding defendants ordered to EM in jail custody until their bond is modified or more equipment becomes available. His letter to Cook County criminal justice stakeholders called for the development of a process to ensure that EM is used only for defendants who require that level of supervision and for removal of individuals from EM after a period of successful supervision.

Last fall, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said he no longer wants responsibility of the electronic monitoring program due to the large number of people being released on electronic monitoring who are charged with violent or gun-related charges. In a letter to Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans on October 3, 2019, Sheriff Dart proposed consolidating the Sheriff’s EM program into the Chief Judge’s EM program. The Sheriff stated at a budget hearing in October 2019 that the electronic monitoring program previously was used primarily for people charged with drug offenses, but now the most frequent charge is Unlawful Use of a Weapon, and some individuals on EM were charged with murder.[3]

The Cook County Chief Judge’s view is that electronic monitoring is intended to monitor higher risk individuals who judges believe need more supervision than simply releasing on their own recognizance, and that it is therefore appropriate for individuals who pose a higher risk to public safety to be ordered to the Sheriff’s electronic monitoring.[4]

Based on the Office of the Chief Judge’s most recent public data as of September 30, 2019, the most frequent charge among those on Sheriff’s electronic monitoring was for non-violent and non-weapons charges (46.2%). Another 33.4% of people on Sheriff’s EM were charged with a weapon charge and 17.9% on Sheriff’s EM were charged with a violent crime (murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery or aggravated battery). Another 2.5% were charged with person charges (e.g., assault, battery and child neglect).

As a potential solution to the electronic monitoring challenge, the Justice Advisory Council under the Cook County President’s Office is seeking responses to a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for consulting services to examine current electronic monitoring practices, identify best practices and make recommendations for improvement. The Justice Advisory Council carries out the County Board President’s criminal justice policy priorities and offers grant funding to community organizations for violence and recidivism reduction programs. This RFQ signals the first step in what could end up being a transformation of the way EM is used and evaluated in Cook County, with more of a focus on performance and outcomes.  

The purpose of this technical review is to identify how the County can create a more cost-effective and efficient EM program that ensures appropriate considerations are taken into account with EM orders. Other goals are to ensure the use of best practices such as reviews within 60 days to determine whether continued electronic monitoring is needed, and to ensure the program is run with greater sensitivity to people’s health needs and employment, education and family responsibilities. After the initial evaluation is completed, another Request for Qualifications or Request for Proposals would be issued to identify a vendor to implement and operate the new EM program.

Operational questions such as who would run the electronic monitoring program (whether a Cook County agency or contracted vendor), what the structure of the program would be, potential cost and appropriate staffing structure would be determined later in the process.

About Cook County’s Electronic Monitoring Programs

Electronic monitoring is a condition of bond used as an alternative to detention for criminal defendants who are awaiting their trial. There are several types of electronic monitoring (EM) programs in Cook County. The Cook County Sheriff operates an electronic monitoring program in which defendants wear a radio frequency ankle bracelet that sends a signal to monitor and alerts the Sheriff’s Office when a defendant leaves their home or tries to tamper with a device. Defendants earn credit for time served on the Sheriff’s EM program because they are considered in custody. Because of this, violations can be treated as an escape and the person can be brought back into jail custody. The Sheriff’s EM is 24/7 home confinement, with exceptions made for movement to jobs, appointments, school and other reasons if approved by the Sheriff’s Office. Requests for movement must be submitted 72 hours in advance. Because the Sheriff’s EM is so restrictive, it is considered inappropriate for low or medium risk defendants.

The Office of the Chief Judge operates an electronic monitoring program managed through the Adult Probation Department’s Home Confinement Unit, known as Curfew EM. This program uses radio frequency bracelets to monitor both pretrial defendants and individuals who have been convicted and are on probation or conditional release. Individuals in this program must be in their home from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m., but are free to leave for work and other obligations during the day. For this reason, the Curfew EM program is considered less restrictive and is usually ordered for lower risk defendants. In contrast to the Sheriff’s EM, pretrial defendants do not earn credit for time served on this program. As of January 2019, the Home Confinement Unit was overseeing 850 individuals on radio frequency electronic monitoring, approximately 250-300 of whom are pretrial defendants.

The Chief Judge’s Home Confinement Unit also operates a GPS monitoring program that tracks a person’s location and movement. This program is used primarily for domestic violence cases.

The Sheriff’s EM program has an allocation of $19.5 million and 148 FTE positions in the Cook County FY2020 adopted budget, and the Chief Judge’s Home Confinement Unit has a budget of $7.7 million and 92 FTE positions.

Both the Sheriff and the Chief Judge have a contract with Attenti for the radio frequency bracelets and equipment used for their respective electronic monitoring programs. The current contract runs from January 2019 through January 2022 at a cost of $14.3 million.  

In response to questions about the possibility of merging the Sheriff’s EM program into the Chief Judge’s program, Chief Judge Tim Evans said combining the two programs would be complicated due to key differences between the two programs’ structures and staffing: staff in each respective program belong to different unions, have different educational requirements and have different training and authority.[5] When a violation of the Sheriff’s EM occurs, Sheriff’s deputies respond by going out to investigate and they have authority to make arrests. Probation Officers that oversee Home Confinement serve a different role, and only have authority to report incidents involving EM violations to the court. The Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts prescribes personnel requirements and funding levels for Probation Officers.

Appropriate Use of Electronic Monitoring

No public assessment has been conducted on whether electronic monitoring in Cook County is used appropriately or effectively. Further research and evaluation of electronic monitoring and its impact on pretrial success has been recommended by the Illinois Supreme Court.[6]

The Public Safety Assessment used in Cook County, designed to help bond court judges make release decisions, offers risk scores and associated release recommendations to judges for each pretrial defendant. The scores measure the risk, or likelihood, that a defendant will fail to appear in court or commit a new offense while out on bond. There are only two score combinations in which Sheriff’s electronic monitoring is recommended as a release condition based on the Decision Making Framework matrix, and they are for defendants with high risk scores, but not high enough to warrant detention. The highest risk defendants are recommended to be held in jail.

The Chief Judge’s bond court dashboards provide some insight into bond court judges’ release orders, including Sheriff’s EM, but they do not include information about Public Safety Assessment risk scores, release recommendations, and associated public safety outcomes. Public data and analysis of the appropriateness of EM as a condition of release is needed.

The Illinois Supreme Court’s Commission on Pretrial Practices recommended in its April 2020 final report that the use of electronic monitoring should be limited and specific to a condition that requires close monitoring. Research has shown that higher levels of supervision for high risk individuals can be effective, while high levels of supervision for low to moderate risk defendants actually increase the likelihood of pretrial misconduct. The Commission’s report finds that there is no evidence that electronic monitoring promotes public safety or court appearance. Electronic monitoring can encourage a higher release rate, but also can lead to technical violations and can be costly to implement.

The Cook County Justice Advisory Council’s Request for Qualifications is a preliminary, but potentially significant, step in moving toward a more evidence-based electronic monitoring program in Cook County.


[1] Several changes and reform efforts have contributed to a shift in the jail and electronic monitoring populations since 2013. First, a new type of bond order was created in June 2013 – I-bond with EM – in which the defendant can choose to go on electronic monitoring or pay the bond amount in lieu of EM. For a period of time between November 2012 and February 2013, bond court judges were requiring defendants to pay money bail before being eligible for release on EM, which caused the number of defendants on EM to drop due to inability to pay. Second, the Cook County Board President requested intervention from the Illinois Supreme Court in September 2013, which led to a set of 40 recommendations for changes to pretrial operations in Cook County, many of which were implemented. Third, Cook County implemented the use of a Public Safety Assessment (PSA) in bond court to assess the risk of releasing defendants from jail in July 2015 for felony cases. The PSA provides bond court judges with scores for each defendant’s risk of reoffending or failing to appear in court, and release recommendations associated with the risk scores. Fourth, the Cook County Chief Judge introduced a new a new policy on money bail, General Order, 18.8A, that is intended to ensure that defendants are not kept in jail solely because they cannot afford to pay money bail. This order went into effect in September 2017 for felony cases.

[2] The jail population on May 27, 2020 was 4,268, but it should be noted that this was higher than preceding weeks. The average daily jail population from May 1 through May 21 was 4,066. The jail population increase between May 21 and May 27 could be partially attributed to the increase in violence and arrests in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend.

[3] Statement by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart at an October 30, 2019 budget hearing of the Cook County Finance Committee for the Office of the Sheriff.

[4] Statement by Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans at a November 4, 2019 budget hearing of the Cook County Finance Committee for the Office of the Chief Judge.

[5] Statement by Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans at a November 4, 2019 budget hearing of the Cook County Finance Committee for the Office of the Chief Judge.

[6] See Illinois Supreme Court Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, Circuit Court of Cook County Pretrial Operational Review, March 2014; and Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices, Final Report, April 2020.