July 28, 2020
Illinois has a long history of pretrial reform efforts. Dissatisfaction with the commercial money bail bond system prompted Illinois to become one of the first states to abolish bail bondsmen in 1963. The Pretrial Services Act (725 ILCS 185/0.01 et seq.) became effective on July 1, 1987, providing the legal framework for the pretrial process in Illinois. While section 1 of the Act provides that "[e]ach circuit court shall establish a pretrial services agency," this goal remains a work in progress.
In recent years, the Illinois Supreme Court has taken important steps to support pretrial reform in our state. The Court adopted a policy statement for pretrial services in April 2017, followed by creation of the Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices in November 2017. The Commission studied best practices in use around the country, consulted pretrial reform experts, listened to stakeholders at public hearings throughout the state, and analyzed the myriad sources of academic and professional analysis of pretrial issues. The Commission's thorough study, discussion and spirited debates over the past two years culminated with a final report issued in April 2020.
This extensive report was reviewed by the Supreme Court during the May 2020 Term and approved. At the same time, the Justices recognized additional work was needed to prioritize and implement the report's 54 recommendations. Therefore, the Court created the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices Implementation Task Force (Task Force) which held its first meeting on July 21.
The Task Force is chaired by the Hon. Robbin Stuckert (23rd Judicial Circuit) who also served as Chair of the Commission. Judge Stuckert provided a steady hand as Chair of the Pretrial Practices Commission and has worked tirelessly to improve pretrial practices in Illinois. Other Task Force members include: Rep. Carol Ammons (103rd Dist.), Whiteside County Sheriff John Booker, Sen. John Curran, Lake County Public Defender Division Chief Keith Grant, Hamilton County State's Attorney Justice Hood, Deputy Attorney General Nathalina Hudson, AOIC Probation Director Dan Hunt, Loyola Professor David Olson, Sen. Elgin Sims (17th Dist.), Judge Cara Smith, Carol Thomson from the Civic Federation of Chicago, Rep. Dan Ugaste and Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman.
The Task Force also will have the good fortune of being supported by two new AOIC employees that began work in July – Pretrial Services Administrator Wendy Venvertloh and Pretrial Services Manager Sharjeel (Sarge) M. Rizvi. While Wendy and Sarge are new to the AOIC, they already possess demonstrated expertise in pretrial services. Wendy Venvertloh started her career in 1999 with Adams County Probation, ultimately becoming Director of Probation and Court Services. She oversaw the establishment and continued operations of Adams County's Pretrial Services Department. Sarge Rizvi started his career in 1997 in Kankakee County before moving to McLean County in 2007 where he served as Pretrial Services Coordinator. Their extensive knowledge and experience will be instrumental in advancing pretrial practices in Illinois.
In the coming months, the Task Force will provide guidance and direction on the implementation of the Pretrial Commission's recommendations, which include modification to state laws; Supreme Court rules and policies; and the practices, procedures and systems used in circuit courts throughout Illinois. These changes will help draw Illinois ever nearer to the Supreme Court's goal of ensuring a fair, efficient, transparent, accountable and adequately-resourced system of pretrial services using legal and evidence-based practices and an operational structure guided by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) Framework for Pretrial Justice: Essential Elements of a High Functioning Pretrial System and Agency.
These reforms are more important than ever as our nation continues to grapple with the persistent challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. By its actions, the Supreme Court has demonstrated its support of comprehensive pretrial reform in the Illinois criminal justice system and placed Illinois among the leaders in a national movement to advance pretrial practices.