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Criminal Justice Reforms Taking Center Stage in Illinois

3/26/2019

March 26, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court’s position on admission to bail was stated in Stack v. Boyle:
The practice of admission to bail, as it has evolved in Anglo-American law, is not a device for keeping persons in jail upon mere accusation until it is found convenient to give them a trial. On the contrary, the spirit of the procedure is to enable them to stay out of jail until a trial has found them guilty. Without this conditional privilege, even those wrongly accused are punished by a period of imprisonment while awaiting trial and are handicapped in consulting counsel, searching for evidence and witnesses, and preparing a defense. 342 U.S. 1, 7-8 (1951).

Illinois has a long history of pretrial reform efforts. In 1964, 55 years ago, Illinois was one of the first states to eliminate the private bail bondsman system. Today, Illinois stakeholders are working together to determine the next chapter in bail reform. The Illinois Supreme Court formed the Commission on Pretrial Practices in 2017 with representatives from all three branches of government, including various justice partners and leadership from statewide stakeholder organizations. The Commission has been charged with conducting a comprehensive review of the State’s pretrial detention system and making recommendations for amendments to state laws and Supreme Court Rules/policies to ensure pretrial practices in Illinois are consistent with the Illinois Supreme Court Policy Statement on Pretrial Services dated April 19, 2017. In moving Illinois from a resource-based system of justice to one that is risk-based, the Commission’s goal is to maximize appropriate release, assure court appearances and advance public safety.


The Commission recently released its Preliminary Report to inform of its progress on these efforts. The Report notes that Commission members were trained on the National Institute of Corrections’ (NIC) Essential Elements of a High Functioning Pretrial Justice System and Agency and continue to receive technical support from the NIC. The Commission has identified 10 subcommittees with members selected from throughout the state who are taking a deep dive into specific aspects of the pretrial process, such as Arrest Decision/Pre-Arraignment. The subcommittees will provide recommendations back to the full Commission; in the interim, the Commission will be holding public hearings throughout the state that will provide an opportunity for additional information and dialogue with Commission members.

 
While Illinois has implemented various changes in pretrial services in some jurisdictions, it has not yet enacted comprehensive, statewide pretrial practices reform, including those measures specified in the 2017 Bail Reform Act. Among other things, the Act requires that defendants have counsel present at bail hearings and a public defender appointed if they cannot afford one. While this is a positive development, the hardship for counties with limited resources has re-enforced the call for an adequately-resourced, statewide solution.


Last month, Gov. Pritzker issued Executive Order 9 establishing the Justice, Equity, and Opportunity Initiative to “create a justice system that better reflects Illinois’ values by focusing on increasing justice, equity and opportunity in Illinois.” This initiative will be spearheaded by Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, who has made criminal justice reform a major focus of her agenda. The Order states that “increasing judges’ use of diversion programs, reducing the use of pretrial detention, implementing bond reform, reducing mandatory minimums, and implementing alternatives to incarceration will all play an important role in making sentencing in Illinois more equitable ***.”


Clearly, all three branches of government in Illinois believe criminal justice reforms are necessary and possible. The Judicial Branch looks forward to having a seat at the table as we find ways to improve our criminal justice system from arrest to disposition, including pretrial practices.


I encourage you to read the Preliminary Report at http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Probation/12-18.pdf The Commission will issue its Final Report and recommendations to the Illinois Supreme Court in December 2019.