WBEZ: Willie Wilson Pledges $15,000 To Post Bail For County Inmates

Former U.S. presidential and Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson announced he will spend $15,000 to post bail for Cook County Jail inmates.

On Thursday, Wilson paid $2,850 for the release of six inmates facing misdemeanor charges, according to the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.

Wilson will spend the remainder of the money to post bail for inmates with pending cases, said spokesman Rev. Gregory Seal Livingston. 

Outside a jail facility in the Little Village community, Wilson said those arrested for minor crimes can get caught in the system and he hopes bailing them out of jail will provide a second chance.

“Some of these kids were just picked up on the street doing nothing,” Wilson said. “Some of these kids just had a little ounce of marijuana and (are) locked in jail for two or three months -- or years. That don’t make sense.”

Cara Smith, chief policy officer for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, said the county initially provided Wilson with a list of inmates whose bail was set at $1,000 or less. Wilson picked 14 inmates from that list, but eight had already posted bail or resolved their case before Wilson could put up the money, she said.

Smith said the county met with the six remaining men Wednesday to explain that Wilson would pay their bail, and asked that they participate in the sheriff’s Supportive Reentry Program. The program aims to keep those released from jail from getting arrested again by connecting them with community services. 

“We’re in support of any program that gets people out of our custody,” Smith said. “There’s a fine line we walk, but certainly as a general rule people are better served in the community than in custody.”

Wilson said politicians often talk about reform, but don’t take enough action. 

“This goes far beyond politics,” Wilson said. “We want to bail out human beings.”

Wilson added that he gave each of the recently released men $200. He said he hopes they use the money for groceries and other necessities. 

Wilson pledged to spend an additional $50,000 next year to release misdemeanor inmates from the jail.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Sheriff Tom Dart attended Wilson’s press conference. He did not.

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