On any given day, more than 90% of people in Cook County Jail ( "CCJ" ) are presumed innocent and yet are locked up pretrial while waiting their trial.
Although the number of LGBTQ people at CCJ is not officially available, we can assume that a disproportionate number of them are part of the LGBTQ community since national studies have found that LGB people are incarcerated at three times the rate as the general population. Transgender adults are even more likely to be incarcerated, with 16% of them having spent time in prison or jail as compared to only 2.7% of all adults.
As of today, the Cook County Sheriff reports that there are 12 transgender people incarcerated in Cook County Jail. We know, however, that there are many more transgender and gender-nonconforming people in CCJ who are not counted in this official estimate. Pervasive misgendering by criminal justice system actors, increased risk of targeted violence from correctional officers if someone self identifies as LGBTQ, and constant failures to follow the jail's own gender identity policy all guarantee that many queer, trans and gender-nonconforming people will not be included in official reports.
Disproportionate targeting from policing coupled with increased barriers to education, housing, employment, and increased likelihood to live in poverty all contribute to the overrepresentation of LGBQ, transgender and gender-nonconforming people, especially people of color, in the criminal legal system. The use of money bonds, which require posting of money in exchange for freedom, further increases their disproportionate pretrial jailing since many are simply less likely to have the personal financial resources or family support required to pay bond.
In a 2014 Black and Pink survey of LGBTQ prisoners across the United States, 74% of respondents were incarcerated pretrial because they could not afford to pay their bond. More than half of the respondents were incarcerated for a year or longer simply for being poor. Even if someone is able to pay a money bond, conditions of release that require a home address ( such as electronic monitoring ) also lead to disproportionate incarceration of LGBTQ people, who are considerably more likely to experience homelessness than cis-straight people, and also less likely to be able to access shelters and supportive housing. The increased likelihood that LGBTQ people will be incarcerated pretrial is extremely concerning since LGBTQ people are at increased risk of experiencing sexual, physical, and emotional violence while in jail.
Pretrial incarceration also severely impacts the stability and safety of LGBTQ communities. Spending just a single day in jail can set off a chain of devastating eventsnot just for the person who is arrested, but also their families, whether biological or chosen. After just a few days of incarceration, people can lose their jobs, housing, access to medical care, and they can be kicked out of crucial opportunities like education and career programs. This is all punishment before conviction.
Separating people from their families, friends and support networks increases the likelihood that they will be trapped in cycles of arrest and incarceration, thereby making all of us less safe. The compounding negative effects of money bond and pretrial incarceration greatly outweigh any perceived benefits of jailing people before their trial.
Currently, there are 2,500 people incarcerated at Cook County Jail only because they cannot afford to pay their money bonds. Many have been in jail for more than a year waiting for their cases to resolve, and each additional day increases the chance that they will be forced to accept a guilty plea in exchange for their release.
The use of money bond and pretrial incarceration exacerbates issues in LGBTQ communities and communities of color, where long-term divestment and over-policing already deprive people of safety. These issues are even starker for queer, trans and gender-nonconforming people of color, who are often targeted simply for existing in public.
Eliminating the use of money bond and pretrial incarceration is necessary not just to ensure that accused people are able to fight their cases from a place of freedom, increasing the chance that their charges will be dismissed or that they will be given non-criminal dispositions, but also to ensure that we all have a chance to live and to thrive.
A person's access to money should not determine whether they will be forced to remain in jail or walk free.
To support bond reform in Cook County and ensure that people are not incarcerated because they are poor, sign this petition here: chicagobond.org/support_bond_reform.html .
Irene Romulo is the Director of Advocacy at the Chicago Community Bond Fund. You can follow CCBF on Twitter @ChiBondFund and on our website www.chicagobond.org .