Bail reform that was designed to lend a hand to indigent jail detainees could be putting opioid users and public safety at risk, McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said.
The Bail Reform Act took effect Jan. 1, 2018, shifting the focus of pretrial detention from a person’s financial ability to post bond to one’s threat to public safety and likeliness to make court appearances.
The measure was created to prevent the long-term detention of people who face relatively minor charges but struggle to come up with bail money. However, Kenneally and state Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, are working together on a bill that would allow McHenry County – and other areas with populations of fewer than 3 million – to opt out of the new bail requirements until they reach a better compromise.
“If what we’re going to do is put that toothpaste back in the tube or maybe relook at that issue down the road, the best thing to do is go back to the status quo ...” Reick said. “And if there are tweaks that can be made between where we are with the Bail Reform Act and where we are now, let’s take the time to actually explore that ...”
Reick voted against the Bail Reform Act in May 2017. Fellow Republican state Reps. Andrew Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, and Steven Andersson, R-Geneva, voted in its favor.
Proponents of bail reform say it protects defendants who might otherwise lose their jobs while they’re in jail and struggle to get back on their feet upon release.
Kenneally and Reick said the Bond Reform Act was passed as a “one-size-fits-all” solution to Cook County’s concerns about jail overcrowding.
Bail reform also could contribute to McHenry County’s opioid problem, Kenneally said, pointing to the deaths of four people who fatally overdosed while out on bond as a result of the Bail Reform Act.
“This new law is putting opioid abusers back onto the streets after they have detoxed in jail for several days but before they have been provided with access to proper services to help them address their issues with drug abuse,” Kenneally said.
The state’s attorney has been vocal about his efforts to bring detox and residential treatment facilities to McHenry County. At the moment, local people with addictions are sent to treatment centers throughout the state, but there aren’t always beds available.
Even with the introduction of in-county treatment facilities, however, Kenneally said he wouldn’t budge on his attempt to opt out of the new bail requirements.
Kenneally wrote a letter to Illinois senators in December 2017 expressing his opposition to the Bail Reform Act. In it, he wrote that as of November 2017, there were about 155 defendants unable to post monetary bond at the McHenry County Jail.
Of those people, about 33 had been charged with offenses that could qualify them for a nonmonetary bond, he said. On average, those same 33 people were arrested more than 11 times, he said.
Under previous laws, nonviolent, low-level offenders throughout Illinois could spend weeks, months or years in jail simply because they didn’t have enough money to post bail.
Judges now are required to consider factors including a person’s financial means, the seriousness of the alleged offense, criminal history and previously missed court appointments before setting a monetary bond. In place of cash, inmates now can receive a $30-a-day credit toward their bond and are released once they break even.
Courts throughout the state also are encouraged to impose special conditions to ensure defendants don’t commit additional crimes while out on bond.
It’s unclear, however, if the law has affected a person’s likeliness to re-offend. The county would need to wait several months until all 2018 cases are closed to take an accurate look at how the Bail Reform Act has affected the area, Kenneally said.
Although the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority agrees statewide pretrial data is lacking, research examined by the ICJIA determined pretrial detention doesn’t decrease the likelihood of recidivism among certain groups. In fact, in some instances, it may increase the likelihood to re-offend, the ICJIA reported in June 2018.
“Washington, D.C., virtually eliminated bail and noted that 90 percent of those released pretrial made court appearances, 91 percent were not rearrested prior to trial, and 98 percent were not arrested for a violent crime prior to trial,” the report stated.
But Kenneally echoed concerns McHenry County Court Administrator Dan Wallis foresaw before the reform took effect. When a criminal case is closed, a portion of the accused person’s bond is put toward any restitution owed to the victim, and then applied to court fines and costs.
“If what you see is less cash bonds, then that money won’t be held. At the end, we’re sort of going to be getting into this situation where there’s no money to apply to the fees and the fines, and it’s a collection issue,” Wallis said in February 2018.
Republican representatives Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, and Darren Bailey, R-Willow Hill, signed on as chief co-sponsors of the bill earlier this week.
The bill has been assigned to the rules committee, which is scheduled to meet Monday.