By Mai Martinez

CHICAGO (CBS) —  A terminally ill inmate dies in custody.

He’s accused of shoplifting, yet he couldn’t afford to bond out.

CBS 2’s Mai Martinez reports there are hundreds of other inmates who also can’t afford their bonds.

Close to 300 low-level offenders as of this past Friday can’t afford to bond out. A spokesperson for the Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office says inmates should be kept in jail if they pose a danger to society, not because they are poor.

Cook County Jail inmate Ryan Hanley died at Stroger Hospital Monday. The 34-year-old was terminally ill and had been in custody, since June after being arrested for stealing baby formula.

Cara Smith, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, said Hanley died in custody because he didn’t have the $5,000 he needed to bond out.

“This case really underscores why there needs to be reform in the way bonds are set and Cook County,” Smith says. “We need a more robust system for reviewing bonds. The statute was never intended to keep people in custody simply because they are poor and that is in fact what is happening.”

Hanley’s criminal history, including arrests for theft, burglary and armed robbery likely played a role in his higher bond.

But Smith says Hanley was just one of hundreds of inmates who remain in custody, simply because they don’t have enough money to get out.

As of Friday:

  • 271 inmates need $1000 or less
  • 19 need $300
  • 12 need $200
  • And 6 need just $100

“We shouldn’t be in imprisoning people simply because they are poor or because they are sick,” Smith says.

Because there are so many poor, low-level offenders, Sheriff Tom Dart is working with lawmakers to introduce legislation that would give his department a voice in reducing bonds in certain cases.

Individuals, including Chicago businessman and former Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson, have fought locally to help assist poor inmates. In September, Wilson announced a pilot program in which he plans to invest $15,000 to bail out 15-20 inmates with bonds set at $1,000 or less. He also plans to give each of them $200 in cash once they’re out.


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