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Study: Reduced Pretrial Incarceration Doesn’t Diminish Public Safety

All too often, critics of bail reform assert a stale mantra that more pretrial releases will necessarily lead to increased crime and diminished public safety. Rather than relying on comprehensive data, critics cite limited and infrequent examples of worst-case scenarios that are often sensationalized.

The report of the Loyola University Chicago study was published in an effort to dispel such unwarranted narratives – narratives that are used to undermine needed change in America’s cash-bail system and the pretrial treatment of legally innocent persons.

Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans of Cook County issued General Order 18.8A (“GO 18.8A”) in September 2017. GO 18.8A was designed and implemented in response to the allegation that far too many Cook County residents were being detained pretrial only because they could not afford their cash bail.

Cash bail disproportionately hurts the poor and minorities, becoming an insurmountable burden for those in the lower socio-economic class. GO 18.8A instituted a presumption in favor of requiring both that there shall be a cash bond for most felony counts and that judges may only impose a bond amount within the financial means of the defendant.

The study, reported by The Appeal, found, “unconstitutional, unaffordable money bonds were the single largest reason people were admitted to Cook County Jail during the pandemic.”

Cook County Jail was one of this country’s largest single-site facilities, housing nearly 7,000 people at that time. The jail’s population was reduced by 16 percent as more people were released without having to pay a bond in the first 15 months following the implementation of GO 18.8A. Around 6,500 people in total were processed and released during the first six months alone – a number twice that normally expected prior to GO 18.8A. However, the study also found that, even after GO 18.8A, 1 in 5 charged with a crime might still remain in the Cook County Jail for months, or even years, while their case is adjudicated.

Prior research indicates that even short periods of time in pretrial incarceration lead to an increased likelihood of loss of housing and employment. Research has also found that those who remain in jail are more likely to plead guilty than those able to afford a cash bond.

Across America, around 500,000 people considered legally innocent are housed in jails daily simply because they may not have access to adequate financial resources. Those are some of the facts supporting the position of The Coalition to End Money Bonds – a group that advocates for the elimination of cash bonds entirely.

Despite more progress being needed, GO 18.8A reforms were found to have saved defendants and their families over $31 million that would have otherwise been spent on cash bonds. By May 2019, the circuit court declared GO 18.8A a success. Its report stated that GO 18.8A reforms “allowed more defendants to remain in their communities prior to trial, where they can work, pursue their education and support their families. The vast majority of released defendants appear in court for all hearings. Bail reform has not led to an increase in violent crime in Chicago.”

The Loyola University Chicago report notes that crime rates in Cook County did not increase after GO 18.8A was implemented, finding that there is no evidence to support that those released are more likely to be rearrested. In short, the study found no increased danger to public safety.

The report’s authors wrote that bail reform naysayers “may continue to argue that reducing the use of monetary bail and increasing the number of people released pretrial will result in more defendants committing more crimes while on pretrial release. But that is not what happened following bail reform in Cook County, consistent with experiences following bail reform in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.

“Like these other reforms, GO 18.8A demonstrates that it is possible to decrease the use of monetary bail and decrease pretrial detention – and lessen the financial, physical, and psychological harms that come with pretrial detention – without affecting criminal activity or crime rates.”

New Jersey essentially eliminated cash bail, the largest jurisdiction in America to do so.  Subsequently, the state saw its jail populations fall 45%. The FBI noted that violent and property crime decreased by an average of 19% during the same period between 2015 and 2019. Data from four states, and nine cities and counties, were previously analyzed by the Prison Policy Initiative, and it found results that are echoed by the Loyola University Chicago study and prior research of jurisdictions all across America.

Judge Evans said in a press release, “This study confirms what our office has previously determined in our own review – that bail reform furthers the cause of justice and equality by releasing defendants not deemed a danger to any person or the public. Defendants should not be sitting in jail awaiting trial simply because they lack the financial resources to ensure their release.”

In February 2021, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill that eliminates cash bail for nonviolent pretrial detainees – a change that will be effective in January 2023. 


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