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How Much Will Change When Illinois Halts Cash Bail System in January?

While a new law overhauling Illinois’ system of pretrial detention faces scrutiny ahead of its Jan. 1 implementation date, new research suggests the old cash-based system “results in much less pretrial detention than is generally assumed.” So says Loyola University of Chicago's Center for Criminal Justice, which has been measuring the potential effects of the provision commonly referred to as the Pretrial Fairness Act, which will abolish cash bail come Jan. 1, reports Capitol News Illinois. “What we’ve found is that, while it’s true that many people are jailed under the current cash bail system, most jail stays are brief,” researchers wrote after examining data from six counties. “Most people pass through jails, being held for relatively short periods before bonding out — and that includes people charged with the kinds of serious offenses that are designated ‘detainable’ under the PFA.” The Pretrial Fairness Act, passed in 2021 as part of the SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform, will end the wealth-based system that decides whether a person is released from custody while awaiting trial. It replaces it with one that allows judges greater authority to detain individuals who are accused of violent crimes and deemed a danger to the community or a risk of fleeing prosecution. The new system also limits judicial discretion when it comes to lesser, non-violent offenses. Under current law, bail hearings typically occur within 72 hours of arrest and last fewer than five minutes. Prosecutors detail the defendant’s charges and may recommend a bail amount. The judge then decides the conditions of their release, including how much money, if any, the defendant must post before their release. “The concern is that in in some counties, there's not sufficient time spent considering the decision at hand … there isn't adequate or sufficient legal representation at that point where an important decision about liberty is being made,” said Loyola Prof. David Olson, co-director of the Center for Criminal Justice.

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