Thousands of minor drug arrests in Chicago are routinely tossed out after a few months, or even days, but the impact on those arrested is long lasting, according to a report from the Chicago Sun-Times and the Better Government Association.
An analysis of 280,000 drug possession cases between 2000 and 2018 revealed about half of those cases were dismissed. In 2018, such dismissals rose to 72% of cases, according to the report.
Chicago Sun-Times reporter Frank Main says these findings are a result of an “unwritten” rule among Cook County prosecutors and judges to dismiss cases involving small amounts of drugs.
“These cases are a gram or less of cocaine or heroin,” Main said. “People will come into court after being arrested by the police and almost immediately while in the preliminary hearing, the judge will dismiss the case and they’ll walk out. ... We saw people skipping and smiling out of court.”
Meanwhile, some people end up spending a few weeks in jail before this happens.
“Essentially, it’s a catch-and-release system that doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Main said.
Garien Gatewood, director of the Illinois Justice Project, has seen the lasting consequences this system has on those arrested.
“You see an upheaval even from a small stint in a prison or jail where people can lose their jobs, access to the economic opportunities they had,” Gatewood said. “You think about the trauma of spending a night in prison and you expedite that to think about the longer-term impacts of how it can impact not only them, but their families as well.”
Illinois lawmakers have been working to address this issue and are considering legislation that would charge people arrested with misdemeanors instead of felony charges for small amounts of drugs.
“People are really excited to see it move through the Illinois House of Representatives,” Gatewood said. “It stalled a bit in the Senate, but even with the stalling, we’re excited to see what can happen in the future. We’ve seen a lot of support from various members of the General Assembly.”
Contact Acacia Hernandez: (773) 509-5518 | [email protected]