Elimination of Cash Bail in Illinois Sparks Changes and Challenges in State’s Criminal Justice System 

By Kaylynn Chang

CHICAGO, IL A recent news article in the Chicago Tribune reveals the aftermath of six months since Illinois’ decision to eliminate cash bail from the state’s justice systems.

Illinois, as the first state to outlaw cash bail, had decided to remove bail as a “potential condition for release” in order to change “the way pretrial hearings are conducted,” according to the Chicago Tribune, adding it focused on how justice systems operate, and sought to bring equity to the accused by removing the monetary component on which release is often dependent.

Spurring a noticeable decline in jail populations, the removal of a bail system has pressed courts to adjust to the new approach after half a year, said the Tribune, noting the “Pretrial Fairness Act” has led to an “advocates push for funding to support measures” for the “state’s underfunded public defense system,” leading to courts having to adopt “new patterns.”

With the act in place for a half a year now, the article shares recent data from Cook County that points towards longer detention hearings and increased appeals of judicial decisions that are “straining the state’s high courts and spurring new rules meant to stem the flow.”

While the law aims to give equal footing to all accused members, the act highlights the lack of abundant resources for public defense in less urban parts of Illinois, wrote the Tribune.

Carolyn Klarquist, who oversees the Pretrial Fairness Unit in the Office of the State Appellate Defender, commented that the new law is “a sea change in how things were done.”

However, the act has brought some benefits, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Populations in cou​​nty jails have reduced, as the article recognizes that there has been “significant change for county jails, with reductions in [jail] population across the state and in Cook County” by about “13 percent comparing snapshot days in September and April,” despite the strains on the new law.

Looking at how this was achieved, the article reveals that, before, the accused would go before a judge with their release dependent on a condition of monetary bail. However, this new law has the courts only holding “defendants in jail in cases deemed to present a flight risk or danger to the public when charged with an offense where detention is allowed.” For those who do not fall under this criteria the article states that “they are released with conditions, sometimes including electronic monitoring, after an initial appearance.”

Turning to the numbers of how this change is reflected, the article captures data from the chief judge’s office which finds the “Cook County prosecutor’s office sought detention in about 18 percent of cases, with judges granting such petitions about 60 percent of the time.”

Moreover, the Chicago Tribune reveals judges statewide have granted nearly “64 percent of detention petitions brought before them by prosecutors since the law took effect, according to data from the Office of Statewide Pretrial Services.”

This new act has not evaded controversy, however. The article acknowledges that cash bail has been the center of debate by those who believe it had “deepened disparities in the system by disproportionately jailing people too poor to make bail, and often point out that defendants were still allowed release under the old system if they could afford it.” However, people have also spoken out about the propensity for more crime this new act may introduce.

The Chicago Tribune points to data from Cook County that shows “warrants…were issued for a failure to appear in court in about 10 percent of cases in which defendants were released, according to court data.” Correlating to new criminal activity, the data shows “about seven percent of those released were charged with a new, nonviolent offense and four percent with a violent offense.”

The article states that it is “not yet clear how this compares with such rates before implementation of bail reform.”

The Tribune references Don Stemen, a professor at Loyola University Chicago who studies the impact of bail reform, and has noted this challenge of drawing conclusions. Because the new act is still relatively fresh in action, Steman points out that there is not a clear conclusion about what has happened, and what will happen in the future.

“It’s a little early to try to talk about that,” Steman said, while also acknowledging success rates may be high due to less time to reoffend or miss court dates.

A study in the article by Loyola indicates that “statewide, average daily jail populations fell in the first few months,” even after considering expected seasonal fluctuations.

Considering past challenges and the future of funding, the Chicago Tribune highlights Celeste Korando, the public defender for southwestern Jackson County, who voiced the initial difficulties of the new system, noting prosecutors have filed detention petitions for almost every eligible case because of the absence of a physical location for pretrial services officers to meet with clients.

Some of these challenges have been resolved, with prosecutors becoming more selective in filing petitions and the establishment of a physical office for pretrial services. Nevertheless, resource scarcity remains an issue, the Tribune acknowledges.

“Rural wise, being a more rural county, it is the lack of services,” Korando said in the article, speaking about post-reform challenges. Moreover, the article states “mental health treatment and assessment programs are lacking, and there are lags in outfitting defendants with electronic monitoring due to manpower issues.”

Yet apart from abolishing cash bail, the law aimed to level the playing field for the accused during their first court appearance by enhancing hearings and opportunities to scrutinize evidence, said the Tribune, adding while stakeholders commend these efforts, they acknowledge the strain placed on judges, attorneys, and court staff who already contend with limited resources.

In the article, Klarquist noted the increased workload in trial courts, saying, “I think more so in trial court, there’s a lot more for judges to do, prosecutors to do, for public defenders to do.”

To address these longstanding resource scarcity challenges within the court system, the Chicago Tribune highlights the efforts made by advocates to push for the “Pretrial Success Act” that asks for funding to ensure effective counsel and protection for all individuals involved in the criminal justice system.

In addition, Illinois Senate President Don Harmon proposed a bill earlier this month that seeks to establish a statewide office to “provide public defenders with additional support,” expand access to health programs, and address barriers that contribute to missed court appearances, such as childcare and transportation issues.

“Missing court is often not intentional,” said Briana Payton, director of policy and advocacy at Appleseed Center for Fair Courts, emphasizing in the article that “some barriers have very straightforward solutions.”

While Illinois’ move to eliminate cash bail has invoked notable changes in how the state’s criminal justice system operates, legislators, law enforcement, and people alike have yet to continue navigating through both the challenges and benefits this new act has presented, the Chicago Tribune wrote.

About The Author

Kaylynn Chang is an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley looking to major in Legal Studies with a strong interest in criminal justice and judicial law. Having years of experence with journalism and leading a publication, she loves to look for the stories of her community, focusing on the hidden voices and intriguing tales of people. She hopes to attend law school in the future, but for now she is looking to gain experience and experiment with her path. A passionate creator, a cafe connoisseur, and a library enthusiast, Kaylynn is always looking for small adventures along with accomplishing big goals.

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