Illinois Courts Prepare for the Pretrial Fairness Act
By: Marcia M. Meis, Director, Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts
March 30, 2021
Illinois justice stakeholders continue to analyze and discuss the massive criminal justice reform bill passed by the General Assembly in January and signed by Governor Pritzker on February 22, 2021. For the courts, the primary focus is on the Pretrial Fairness Act contained within this legislation which abolishes the use of cash bail in pretrial release decisions (effective January 1, 2023) and establishes new processes for pretrial release and detention decisions.
While this legislation has elicited a wide range of responses, there are some things on which everyone can agree: (1) the Pretrial Fairness Act is historic – we are the first state to explicitly prohibit the use of money in pretrial detention decisions and (2) all eyes nationally are on Illinois.
Illinois is known as a national leader in pretrial reform and 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 became effective on July 1, 1987, providing the legal framework for the pretrial process in Illinois. Yet, while section 1 of the Act provides that "[e]ach circuit court shall establish a pretrial services agency," this goal has remained 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 national pretrial reform experts, listened to stakeholders at public hearings throughout the state, and analyzed myriad sources of academic and professional analysis of pretrial issues. After more than two years of thorough study, discussion and spirited debate, the Commission’s work culminated with a Final Report issued in April 2020 and presented to the Supreme Court in May 2020.
The work of bringing the Final Report’s recommendations to life has since pivoted to the Supreme Court Pretrial Practices Implementation Task Force (Task Force) – a multidisciplinary group comprised of representatives from all three branches of government – which has been meeting regularly since July 2020. Simultaneously, members of the legislative Black Caucus were doing their own work creating the ground-breaking criminal justice reform legislation and its pretrial components.
The legislators are to be commended for soliciting the Pretrial Practices Implementation Task Force’s review and feedback, and the new legislation includes many of the recommendations from the Commission’s Final Report. Among other things, the Task Force strongly urged that some of the major provisions in the new law (originally set to take effect immediately) not take effect until Jan. 1, 2023. This will allow courts and pretrial services time to plan and prepare for dramatic change.
As part of their continuing work to support meaningful pretrial reform, the Task Force is working with system stakeholders and legislators to strengthen the underlying intent of the pretrial-related language in the law. These are not substantive changes to law; rather, these procedural or logistical language changes will help the law function as intended and avoid unintended consequences.
The Task Force continues to work toward the goal of having a fully functioning statewide pretrial services system with consistent, quality practices by the 2023 effective date. The million-dollar question of course is: How do we get there?
Collaboration and Research
The Task Force, its subcommittees and other AOIC working groups are partnering with national, state and local experts in the field to research legal and evidence-based pretrial practices and how best to integrate those services into the work of the Illinois Judicial Branch. The members work with experts from the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), the National Association of Pretrial Services Professionals (NAPSA), Loyola University, the Administrative Office of the Courts in New Jersey and Kentucky, and expert pretrial practitioners in Illinois. The level of interest already expressed from justice partners nationwide is remarkable.
The Task Force and AOIC consider data needs to be the foundation of these efforts. The Pretrial Fairness Act recognized this critical need and designated the AOIC as the pretrial data hub responsible for forming and convening the Pretrial Practices Data Oversight Board. The AOIC is procuring a new data management system to provide a clearer and more comprehensive picture of our judicial system. Additionally, a group comprised of experts in pretrial practices and data analysis are creating a new data set with pretrial specific variables.
Statewide Pretrial Services
A multidisciplinary group is researching the best way to provide high-quality, consistent and uniform pretrial services to every county in Illinois. This includes exploring resource needs and how to operate with best practices while also maintaining lean structure. It also includes researching other pretrial programs in the country and on what works and lessons learned.
The Task Force is building educational content through state and national resources and is working with the Illinois Judicial College to bring these opportunities to judges, pretrial officers and other court stakeholders before and after implementation of this new legislation.
The Probation Division of the AOIC is providing technical assistance to counties adding pretrial services or who are adapting their services to align with the Commission’s Final Report. Much work will need to be completed by 2023 to ensure a roadmap for implementation.
Illinois justice partners must work together to fulfill the mandates in the Pretrial Fairness Act. The Supreme Court and AOIC are committed to doing our part to build and support an adequately-resourced statewide pretrial system that is fair, efficient, transparent, and accountable.