Next City – a nonprofit organization that publishes daily coverage on the ideas that inspire better cities – has published an article highlighting CannonDesign’s work to help redesign Cook County Central Bond Court in Chicago to make it more organized, fair and equitable for the community it serves. CannonDesign engaged on the project via its pro-bono design arm, Open Hand Studio, with Civic Consulting Alliance after learning a group of Cook County stakeholders (criminal justices, elected and appointed leaders) were seeking help and stating the court’s current design negatively impacts how individuals are perceived, bonds are set and detainment decisions are made. Ultimately, they felt these design weaknesses of the current system, created a significant lack of dignity and decorum in the courtroom.
Our new design for the Cook County Central Bond Court solves challenges with layout and organization, acoustics, access to information, lighting and more. Once constructed in 2017, the redesigned bond court will reinstate dignity and humanity in the court room and strengthen people’s lives and Chicago’s justice system. It will hopefully also become a model for other court rooms in Chicago and across the United States. The opportunity for impactful change is evident when one considers the below statistics.
- Cook County Central Bond Court can see up to 200 cases in two hours translating to an average of 37 seconds- 2 minutes per case
- In Cook County, if an individual isn’t able to make bail (most of the bonds in these cases are $1,000 or less), the wait time for their case to be revisited is on average 57 days
- Cook County Jail’s annual operating budget is $300 million, and 90% of Cook County Jail detainees are awaiting trial
Below are excerpts from the Next City story that further highlight the bond court redesign efforts.
On the redesigned court room layout
The redesign puts the judge front and center, facing three separate tables intended to clearly delineate the three separate and equal roles of the pretrial services, public defender and state’s attorney. Behind them are benches for the public, facing the proceedings head on. The layout also allows for multiple paths through the room, so that not everyone needs to pass through the center, as in the current design.
The head-on design makes the proceedings easier to hear, as do the softer materials CannonDesign incorporated into the room. Carpet and acoustic panels will absorb incidental noise. The proposal also includes a curved wall behind the judge’s bench intended to direct sound toward the back of the room, but that element of the design is still being worked out with the sheriff. The complete redesign creates a clear communication path, minimizes distracting excess movement required between agencies and dampens outside noise.
On the weaknesses of the current design
In Cook County, bond court is held in a traditional courtroom, with rows of benches facing forward though the judge’s bench is on a diagonal. There’s also a jury box, even though there’s no jury in bond hearings. “It served no purpose in the room but it was a very prominent feature,” said CannonDesign’s Delia Conache. “The jury box became a holding area for the next 10 defendants waiting their turn.
“For lack of a better phrasing it is a cattle call in the worst imaginable way possible,” says CannonDesign Chicago Office Leader Tim Swanson. Conach says she was “pretty shocked” by her first day in bond court. “Just the speed of it, I had not idea who was who in the room. I was very confused by who the parties were.”
On the inclusion of infographics
Swanson and Conache hope the new layout will make roles in the courtroom clearer, but they also helped design infographic panels outside the courtroom to help explain what’s going on. “The space had to represent the process, and everyone walking in had to come in better informed,” says Swanson. “so that when you walked into the room it was not only a better place to hear things, but you now knew what to expect.”