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Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans today praised Gov. J.B. Pritzker for signing into law a criminal justice reform measure that will eliminate cash bail, because it is consistent with the U.S. Constitution’s presumption of innocence before trial.
“It took courage for Gov. Pritzker to sign this legislation, and it was absolutely the right thing to do,” Judge Evans said. “Money should not determine who should be released on pretrial. The law is that there is a presumption of innocence when someone is charged.”
Under the reform law, known as HB 3653 or the SAFE-T Act, the elimination of cash bail under most circumstances will take effect in January of 2023.
Judge Evans ordered bail reform in the Cook County Circuit Court in 2017. An independent Loyola University study last year found that the order saved Cook County residents from having to post more than $31 million in bail in just one six-month period and kept hundreds out of jail, while not contributing to an increase in crime.
The study largely confirmed findings of a 2019 operational report on felony bail reform conducted by the Office of the Chief Judge.
Both imprisonment before trial and steep bond amounts can be harmful to defendants and to their families, leading to job losses and other personal and financial difficulties, which can in turn lead to more trouble with the law, Judge Evans said.
Defendants still have to avoid criminal activity and return to court when required, in order to remain out of jail pretrial. For those persons who pose a clear and present danger to society, judges can order that they be held in jail until trial, Judge Evans said.
“If they pose no danger to the public, persons should not be punished before being convicted of a crime,” Judge Evans said. “Cash bail provides freedom to those who have the resources to pay it, which is indicative neither of innocence nor of whether a person poses a threat. The law will move the state from a pretrial detention system which favors those who can pay to one that prioritizes public safety.”
Currently, under bail reform in Cook County, most defendants who pose no danger to the public are released from custody pending trial because monetary bail is a last resort, and any bail amounts are required to be set at an amount they can afford.
When setting bond, judges consider multiple factors, including the facts of the case, requirements of Illinois statute, input from the defense and prosecution, and the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) tool. The PSA tool helps judges determine danger to the public and the risks of failure to appear, new criminal activity and new violent criminal activity.
Judge Evans said he looks forward to seeing Cook County’s success in bail reform expanded and replicated throughout the state of Illinois, and eventually the nation.