Willie Wilson bails 100 people out of jail so they can be home for Thanksgiving

CHICAGO -- Chicago businessman Willie Wilson put up money to get more than 100 non-violent offenders released from Cook County Jail so they could be home for the Thanksgiving holiday Thursday.

The “Thanksgiving Day Bailout Program” is designed to give second chances to men and women who were locked up for petty crimes like shoplifting or trespassing, and shine the spotlight on the issue of bail reform.

“We know you can’t fit to get out of jail to post $100 bond, or $500 bond. You’ve been in there for a year, or six months, or three months for a misdemeanor, it is wrong to discriminate between the poor and the rich," Wilson said in a church service Thursday.

Everyone from politicians to pastors also took to the pulpit to rail against what they call an unfair criminal justice system rigged against the poor. Wilson pitched in around $50,000 to get the men and women out of jail.

According to Sheriff Tom Dart’s office, hundreds of detainees at the Cook County Jail are spending time and tax dollars – to the tune of  $143 dollars a day - as they're locked up for minor offenses. Henry Woodson said he was locked up for three weeks for a non-violent misdemeanor because he couldn't afford the $100 bail.

"I was in there for a little minor nothing, and it kind of broke my spirit, and i was going to stay there until my court date, but it just so happened by the grace of God I was praying one night, and the next day the guards called me and told me to get my stuff, i was going home, Woodson said.

Wilson bailed out Woodson and the other detainees so they could be home for the holiday, but for those who didn’t have place to go, Wilson and the church provided Thanksgiving dinner. And then Wilson handed them an envelope containing a second chance.

"He gave me $200, I just guess he wanted to bless me, and I really appreciate it because I really needed it at this time because I don’t have any money and it’s just a blessing," Woodson said.

Advocates for bail reform say that by taking cash out of the system, people who are accused of petty offenses would still face a judge, but don’t face the prospect of sitting in jail until their court date.