Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Illinois justice system begins to see impacts four months after eliminating cash bail

Daily file illustration by Shveta Shah
Advocates say that implementation of the Pretrial Fairness Act has been an overall success.

In September, Illinois became the first state in the country to eliminate cash bail. Four months later, advocates, researchers, and the public are seeing the reform’s effects. 

The state legislature passed the Pretrial Fairness Act in January 2021 as a part of the larger SAFE-T Act, an effort spearheaded by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. The most notable provisions of the Pretrial Fairness Act included ending money bail and limiting eligibility for pretrial incarceration. Supporters of the act have argued that the money bond system disproportionately impacted low-income communities and communities of color. 

The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the bill in July following several minor lawsuits, and the bill was fully implemented in September. 

Because Illinois is the first state in the country to eliminate cash bail, many opponents of the act were concerned about implementing such an unprecedented law. 

Rebecca Levin, former executive director of public policy at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, worked on the bill’s implementation after it passed in 2021. Levin, who is now the vice president of policy at Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, said she is pleased that stakeholders were able to overcome “a lot of egos and politics” to successfully implement the changes.

“I think there’s been some terrific effort around the Pretrial Fairness Act of stakeholders from within and outside the government coming together to figure out how to get the hard work done,” Levin said.

Researchers at Loyola University of Chicago’s Center for Criminal Justice have been tracking the effects of implementation thus far. 

According to a November report from the center, the Cook County jail population decreased by 12% in the month after PFA’s implementation, with similar decreases in several other Illinois counties. 

“It’s gone pretty smoothly,” said Patrick Griffin, deputy director of policy and communications at the Center.

Across three days of observations in Cook County courtrooms, researchers also found that hearings on detention petitions took an average of 22 minutes, compared to a previous average of four minutes for bond hearings. 

The Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice, a coalition of more than 30 organizations that advocated for the Pretrial Fairness Act, has also been closely watching the act’s implementation, according to Briana Payton, director of policy and advocacy at Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts. 

The network said it has mobilized court watchers to attend trials and collect data as they wait for the state to collect and publish court data mandated by the PFA. 

Based on these findings, Griffin and Payton both expressed concerns that public defenders in resource-challenged counties in Illinois may be overburdened by the new law. 

The PFA requires public defenders to attend more hearings on a tightened schedule. Although the act provided $10 million to help public defenders with its implementation, Payton said that may not be enough. 

However, Payton said she thinks that implementation has been an overall success.

“It’s already affecting thousands of people and will affect hundreds of thousands more to come,” she said. “It’s hard to put into words how amazing that is.”

Other advocates like Levin are already looking toward the next step. 

She and the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice are hoping to introduce a piece of legislation called the Pretrial Success Act in the coming legislative session. She said the act would fund access to pretrial navigation services, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and transportation to trials. 

“The Pretrial Fairness Act is absolutely essential,” Levin said. “But that doesn’t mean we’ve fully achieved a vision of pretrial justice.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @llilysshen

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