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Statehouse

Illinois Well Poised To Get Rid Of Cash Bonds, To Send Fewer Offenders To Jail

Illinois Supreme Court Building
Illinois Supreme Court
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The Illinois Supreme Court is committing to a redesign of pretrial justice procedures, the system in place to deal with individuals from the time they're arrested, until their case is resolved.

The state is working with the national Pretrial Justice Institute, which is trying to get 20 states on board. Its CEO, Cherise Fanno Burdeen, says Illinois is the second.

Objectives of the group's campaign include reducing arrests, so someone accused of a misdemeanor is given a summons. Otherwise, they're sent to jail, which can lead to a destabilizing cycle of job loss, and family disruption.

The justices also want to move to a risk-based system when deciding how to handle an offender before court. Fanno Burdeen says risk should be based not just on the charge someone was arrested for, but also on their criminal history.

"And if you make good decisions, about who's safe to release and who isn't, then you can apply the kinds of conditions upon their release that help ensure they get back to court and keep out of trouble," she said.

Her group also aims to eliminate cash bonds.

Fanno Burdeen says Illinois is well-positioned to make that change.

"Illinois is one of four states that does not have commercial surety, or bail bondsmen, so you're not going to see -- we hope -- a real press by the insurance lobbyists to try to maintain the existing bail bond system, because you don't have it," she said.

She also says Cook County is home to the largest jail system is the U.S., and with that size has some of the biggest problems, ripe for fixing. It's also timely, given that Cook County is facing litigation, and this week Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle called for fewer, non-violent defendants to be released from jail.

Further, Cook, Kane and McLean Counties are involved with a separate pretrial risk assessment pilot program.

Though Fanno Burden says she expects the judicial system to make most of the changes by rule, State Rep. Carol Ammons, a Democrat from Urbana, backs the effort.

In a statement Ammons says Illinois can save taxpayers money by not putting people behind bars pre-trial if they're not at risk of harming society.

"Illinois simply cannot afford to continue indiscriminately locking people up," she says. "Too many low-risk people are awaiting trial in Illinois jails, simply because they are too poor to post money bail."

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