Kane court pilot program to help set bail earns early praise

 
 
Updated 1/26/2016 4:37 PM

A pilot program in Kane County in which an assessment of defendants accused of felonies is prepared and used to help set their bail amounts is receiving positive reviews from prosecutors and defense attorneys.

In the program, funded by a grant from the Illinois Supreme Court, court services workers compile information into an actuarial program that quantifies a defendant's risk to the community.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Public Safety Assessment, or PSA, gives different weights to the severity of the crime, the person's criminal background and types of past offenses, and whether the person has been incarcerated.

The report is shared in morning bond call with attorneys on both sides and well as the judge in an effort to set an appropriate bail amount.

"It gives an indicator to the judge of the likelihood the person will commit a new offense or fail to show up in court," said Lisa Aust, executive director of Kane County Court Services. "Our goal is do this every single day, every single bond call. They weigh those factors differently for each one. We want to make sure low-risk people get a fair bond."

Aust said the grant paid for nine pretrial officers to work on the assessments for bond calls at the Aurora and Elgin branch courts, as well as the Kane County Judicial Center in St. Charles.

The pretrial officers begin at 5 a.m., preparing the assessments based in part off criminal history, then fan out to one of the three bond call locations, Aust said. Overall, 114 assessments have been completed since the program went live Jan. 11 through Monday, Aust said.

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Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon said his staff has not noticed any slowdown in bond call since the program began.

"I'm optimistic about this tool," McMahon said. "I like the idea that we're going to have data that helps us make these decisions."

Studies have shown that the longer a defendant is held in jail while a case is pending, the more likely that person is to reoffend. Defendants held in jail, even for a few days, could lose their jobs and it becomes more difficult to assist in their defense.

Kane County Judge Judith Brawka has said officials want to break that cycle of recidivism.

David Camic, a private defense attorney, said the PSA offers information that is more accurate than a simple background check on a defendant.

"The more information they have, the better it is for us," Camic said. "It's more significant for (an assistant) public defender's clients because sometimes they don't have any money (for bond)."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Kane County Public Defender Kelli Childress could not be reached for comment.

Aust said Cook and McLean counties have been selected for the pilot program. Aust said McLean is a rural area and Cook County is a large urban center; Kane has a mix of rural areas, suburbs and cities of more than 100,000 people in Elgin and Aurora.

Aust said the aim of the Illinois Supreme Court is to determine if PSAs can be used statewide. "The goal is to see how this works in the whole bond process," Aust said, adding the PSA methodology has been validated and used in numerous states, including Kentucky. "We just want to make sure it works for us."

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