One of the biggest take-aways from Monday evening’s “Straight Talk on Electronic Monitoring” webinar with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, moderated by State Sen. Sara Feigenholtz (6th), is this: Whoever moderates online webinars controls the questions that are asked.
And, so, Feigenholtz didn’t ask Dart about the wisdom of allowing people on home confinement to walk away for up to 48 hours at a time without being charged with escape — that’s something she and three other organizers of the Zoom session voted for one year ago. Although Dart did call the law “sort of confounding.”
Instead, Feigenholtz and Dart seemed to direct a fair amount of attention away from the well-known electronic monitoring (EM) program run by the sheriff’s office to a lesser-known home detention system operated by the office of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans.
“We do not know how many people are on that program. We think it could be 1,000. We’re not sure,” Dart said. “The chief judge’s office won’t tell us how many people are on the program. We believe most of them are on the old [ankle monitors] which will just tell ya if you’re in the house or not [rather than GPS-equipped], and they’re only monitored from 7 at night until 7 in the morning … unless they’re charged with a domestic violence case.”
“It’s beyond belief,” Dart said later. “I mean, I have no idea. I have literally no idea how many people are on that program. As I say, I vaguely know that they monitor them during just 12-hour windows.”
Illinois courts are not subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act legislation, so anyone who wants to learn about their inner workings and data must rely on the court’s willingness to answer.
As it turns out, CWBChicago did ask Evans’ office about its home monitoring program almost exactly one year ago, and they provided quite a bit of information — including information that Dart specifically said he could not get from the chief judge.
The court’s monitoring program, called “pretrial monitoring,” is designed for situations in which judges want to put a defendant on a curfew rather than on 24-hour home confinement, Evans’ office confirmed last year.
“The EM program for pretrial supervision is designed to monitor curfew compliance,” Mary Wisniewski, Evans’ director of communications, said at the time.
Bond court judges who impose curfews typically set 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. as the timeframe unless a defendant works, goes to school, or has other responsibilities during those hours. That explains why, as Dart noted, the participants are only monitored 12 hours a day.
Feigenholtz read a question about Evans’ program that she said was submitted for the webinar: “There is no public information available about the number of people that the [court] electronic monitoring program … what they are charged with … or any other basic information,” the senator read.
And, remember, Dart, who currently has 2,600 people on his EM program, said he thought perhaps 1,000 people were on Evans’ monitoring system.
One year ago, Evans’ office had 452, according to information his office provided at the time. What were they charged with? Here’s a table Evans’ office sent:
CWBChicago became interested in the court’s monitoring program after one of its participants, Michael Stidhum, was charged with killing a man after repeatedly violating curfew on a pending gun case.
Like most other participants in the court’s program, Stidhum was outfitted with an ankle monitor and told to stay in the house from 7 p.m to 7 a.m.
Records show he violated the curfew twice in March 2020 and eight times in May 2020 — until cops arrested him for misdemeanor reckless conduct on May 31. He got out on a recognizance bond the same day.
Stidhum violated his curfew again the very next night and 16 more times during June, according to court records. But officials didn’t do anything about it.
On July 16, 2020, Stidhum shot and killed 23-year-old Tavion Edwards as Edwards rode his motorcycle in Lawndale, prosecutors said. Patrol officers heard the gunfire and arrested Stidhum as he ran down a nearby alley. Cops said they found a gun in Stidhum’s pants.
A lot of questions
While Evans’ office was forthcoming about how many people were in his program one year ago and the kinds they faced, there were also many questions that it did not answer clearly.
We wanted to know how many of the program’s participants were AWOL or non-compliant. The judge’s office couldn’t tell us.
“Defendants are not considered AWOL unless a warrant has been issued for violation of bail bond. At that time, they are deactivated from the EM roster, so we cannot provide a number,” the office said in a statement. “Non-compliance with curfew can change from minute to minute, so there is no reasonable way to identify who is currently non-compliant.”
However, Evans’ office said, 31% of the program’s participants were reported to the courts for not complying with their curfew. Of the 141 reported for non-compliance, 49 had pending gun cases, and 30 were facing violent crime charges, according to the statement.
“A non-compliance report does not indicate that a client is AWOL, just that a curfew violation was found to be valid by the supervising officer,” Evans’ office said. “A curfew violation can include anything from going outside to take out the trash during curfew hours to arriving home several hours after curfew started.”
Of course, it seems unlikely that investigators would spend a lot of time running down two-minute violations for taking out the trash, much less bring someone before a judge for doing a chore.
Here’s another interesting fact: The court’s officers do not locate or arrest curfew violators because, unlike people on the sheriff’s department electronic monitoring program, they are not technically “in custody,” Evans’ office said.
The office confirmed that curfew participants do not wear GPS-equipped bracelets. Instead, the court’s home monitoring system “only detects whether a body-worn device is in range of the base station during scheduled curfew hours,” according to the statement from Evans’ office.
There is a court-operated GPS program for domestic violence cases, but that is separate from the pretrial curfew program.