By Marcia M. Meis, Director, Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts
The long awaited and much debated changes to the state’s criminal pretrial system took effect September 18 with a level of media attention rarely experienced in the Judicial Branch. Dozens of articles across the state reported on a range of issues, including longer detention hearings and a focus on who was, or was not, held in custody while awaiting trial.
The articles also looked at another very important item – Are the courts collapsing under the weight of the new system? The answer in one article after another seemed to be – so far so good. While there were issues raised right away – what to do with individuals arrested over the weekend before September 18? - the preparations made by the Judicial Branch in advance of the effective date led to a much smoother transition than some had predicted.
Many judges, state’s attorneys and public defenders are taking the time to walk reporters through the changes and make sure they understand what is taking place in the courtroom and why. Cook County Pretrial Division Presiding Judge Mary Marubio served on a panel to educate journalists at Loyola University earlier this month. Judge Marubio reminded everyone of the big picture: “The purpose of this act is to create better pretrial outcomes for everyone, and that includes the defendant,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times in an article
titled “Cook County judges talk about their first week without cash bail: ‘The world is looking at us.’ ”
While it is nice to think the world is indeed paying attention to Illinois, it is clear the rest of the country is doing so. St. Clair County Chief Judge Andy Gleeson sat down with multiple media outlets from St. Louis who are closely monitoring what is happening across the river, in addition to his efforts to communicate with reporters in the Metro East area.
Up the river in Rock Island, Chief Judge Clarence Darrow echoed what was largely heard around the state, “It's been, through preparation, a pretty seamless integration," Chief Judge Darrow told the Rock Island Argus. Darrow said the biggest challenge so far has been planning for the unknown.
There will continue to be unknowns as Illinois navigates through this monumental change. But the preparations indeed have been extensive, and the Court’s long-term vision for readiness has contributed to this largely smooth start. Some of the highlights of the work include:
- The Court created the Office of Statewide Pretrial Services (OSPS) in August of 2021 to provide pretrial services in counties where pretrial services did not exist. The Pretrial Services Act became effective on July 1, 1987, providing the legal framework for the pretrial process in Illinois. Section 1 of the Act provides that “[e]ach circuit court shall establish a pretrial services agency,” and that goal is finally coming to fruition through a combination of county-based pretrial departments and OSPS.
- Under the direction of Director Cara LeFevour Smith, OSPS has quickly grown to a staff of over 170 individuals and is operational in 70 Illinois counties. OSPS will begin serving Will County in early October 2023.
- The Court recently announced the creation of the Illinois Judicial College Committee on Pretrial Education (CPTE) as a Standing Committee of the Illinois Judicial College (Judicial College), elevating pretrial education from its current Pretrial Board Workgroup status in the Judicial College. The establishment of the CPTE followed the Court’s determination to sunset the Pretrial Implementation Task Force and to promote comprehensive pretrial education as a component of Judicial Branch efforts to be prepared and ready to interpret and apply the SAFE-T Act law. The Judicial College hosted several Pretrial Fairness Act webinars in late August.
- The Legislature created a $10 million Public Defender Fund to be used by the Illinois Supreme Court to provide funding to all counties (except Cook) for public defenders and public defender services. The 101 counties that are a part of the fund will receive from $77,000 up to $147,555 using a formula based on several factors. This additional funding is expected to be transformative for public defenders and their clients across Illinois. The AOIC has prepared and distributed the necessary paperwork to the chief judges for completion. It is expected that the Comptroller will release the funds to the circuits in early October 2023.
- The Judicial Branch’s ability to monitor and analyze the effectiveness of the SAFE-T Act is contingent upon the ability to collect pretrial data and produce useful reports to the AOIC, Chief Judges, stakeholders, and the public. OSPS and other AOIC divisions have been diligently working to identify existing capabilities and enhancements needed to allow data collection and reporting.
- The advent of pretrial reform prompted the amendment of 20 Illinois Supreme Court Rules and the repeal of seven more, as well as MR Orders issued to provide further guidance to court stakeholders. The rule amendments were held in abeyance while the Supreme Court considered a challenge to the constitutionality of the PFA and subsequently took effect on September 18 consistent with the Court’s opinion upholding the PFA. The Court’s website also now provides forms for appeals from those hearings.
I end with a special note of thanks to Judge Robbin Stuckert (Ret.), who served as Chair of both the Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices and the Pretrial Implementation Task Force. In her role as Chair, Judge Stuckert was a steady hand, maintaining focus on the nuts and bolts of what was needed to prepare Illinois courts for this historic change. Judge Stuckert, and all Judicial Branch stakeholders who continue the work to ensure the courts are ready for the elimination of cash bail, provide the support needed in this new era of reform, and thanks are in order for their tireless efforts.