February 25, 2019
Illinois has a long history of pretrial reform and was the first to abolish bail bondsmen in 1963. It implemented the Pretrial Services Act in 1987 and the Bail Reform Act of 2017. These initiatives have brought about positive change, but have not enacted comprehensive, statewide pretrial reform. While some counties are progressively making systemic changes in their administration of pretrial justice, the state as a whole still relies on a resource-based system of pretrial justice. The Illinois Supreme Court’s new effort seeks a move to a state-wide, risk-based model that ensures defendants are not kept in jail simply because they cannot afford to pay for their release on bond. This new initiative is intended to reduce unnecessary pretrial detention and jail overcrowding while increasing public safety and ensuring court appearances.
One year ago, the Illinois Supreme Court announced the creation of a Commission on Pretrial Practices to conduct a comprehensive review of the State’s pretrial detention system and make recommendations for amendments to state laws, Supreme Court Rules, or Supreme Court Policies, as necessary to ensure uniform pretrial practices in all jurisdictions in the state of Illinois are consistent, in form and substance. The Commission’s creation followed the Supreme Court’s adoption of a statewide policy statement on pretrial services to serve as a guide for the trial courts and to announce the Court’s intention that there be a fair, efficient, transparent, accountable and adequately-resourced system of pretrial services in each of Illinois’ 24 judicial circuits.
The Commission is comprised of individuals from all three branches of Illinois government as well as criminal justice stakeholders. The commission stakeholders are diversified from across the state to provide input regarding operational and resource barriers in rural, urban and suburban regions. The Commission is charged with developing a pretrial operation structure guided by the National Institute of Corrections’ (NIC) Essential Elements of a High Functioning Pretrial Justice System and Agency. More information on the Essential Elements can be found at https://nicic.gov/framework-pretrial-justice-essential-elements-effective-pretrial-system-and-agency
In 2017, the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts conducted a statewide survey of pretrial operations in all 102 counties. The results from those surveys were shared with Commission members to aide in identifying the statewide issues and assist in developing a strategic plan to fulfill the Commission’s charge pursuant to the Supreme Court's order. Survey results that support the need for statewide pretrial reform are as follows:
- In 2% of the counties, a judge is not present when a liberty decision is made
- In 51% of the counties, defense counsel is not present at bond hearings
- In 18% of the counties, the defendant is not present at bond hearings
While these statistics may be alarming to many, with the support of the Illinois Supreme Court, and technical assistance from the National Institute of Corrections, Illinois is aggressively, but methodically working towards enhancing the administration of pretrial justice.
All Commission members received extensive training on the Essential Elements. The Commission has now identified subcommittees to begin the substantive work and research on specific areas of bail reform as it relates to the Essential Elements of a High Functioning Pretrial Justice System and Agency. The subcommittees include: Arrest Decisions/Pre-Arraignment, Communication/Training, First Appearance/Preventive Detention, Funding/Resources for Implementation, Legislative, Performance Measurements, Risk Assessment, Supervision/Conditions and Policies and Procedures.
This effort needs support. The Funding/Resources Subcommittee will be seeking to explore ways to get past one of the major barriers to reform – sufficient, statewide funding. The current law requires that every circuit shall have a pretrial services agency, yet operational funding has been insufficient to create and sustain pretrial services in all Illinois circuits.
Illinois pretrial principles and practices are founded upon the presumed innocence of the accused – the cornerstone of our nation’s justice system. The Commission will issue the preliminary report to the Supreme Court in early 2019 and shall issue its final report with recommendations regarding the administration of pretrial justice in Illinois in December 2019.