Justice reform legislation may cost Kane County $6.7 million
Kane County officials are estimating a $6.7 million annual income loss along with roughly $5 million in new annual expenses when Illinois courts switch to a cashless bail system in 2023.
As the justice system scrambles to find new ideas to pay for itself, Republican county board members may now make law enforcement the new priority for spending federal American Rescue Plan dollars.
Members of the county's justice system, including the chief judge and circuit court clerk, presented their estimated financial impact of the Illinois Pre-Trial Fairness Act at a county board committee meeting last week.
The act was passed in February as part of a larger justice reform package.
Justice reform leaders long advocated for the end of cash bail, as it tended to keep poorer, and particularly minority, members of the community in jail for a long time, and at taxpayer expense, without even being convicted of a crime.
Meanwhile, people accused of the same crimes, but with more financial means, continued to walk the streets after bailing out.
"A rich murderer needs to stay in jail just as much as a poor murderer," said Kane County State's Attorney Jamie Mosser, in support of the end of the cash bail system.
Under the new system, which comes online in January 2023, there will be a specific range of offenses that someone can be placed in jail for while awaiting a trial. Even then, a more extensive hearing than the daily bond call will be needed to justify putting someone in the county jail.
Kane County officials have long tried to release as many people accused of nonviolent offenses as possible to keep the costs of running the jail down. The end of cash bail will result in 25% more people being released, according to estimates from Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain.
That means it will be cheaper to run the jail, including less need for corrections officers. But there would be a need for more pretrial workers who oversee home monitoring. New accountability reporting rules to the state, the use of universal body cameras by police, and more extensive review of evidence and the sharing of that evidence will also fuel the need for more prosecutors and public defenders.
County officials will need to find somewhere to put all those workers. That could mean finding money for another county-operated building.
Board member Bill Lenert has been one of the Republicans pushing for the county to keep as much of the $103 million in American Rescue Plan money as possible to fund current and future core services. He pointed to the board's ability to increase the county's portion of local property taxes by up to $1 million per year without a referendum.
"Please talk to whomever you can in the county and ask them to set aside $8 million to $10 million (of rescue plan money) to cover these expenses," Lenert said. "If we don't do that, we are going to be in a position in two to three years where we cannot only not hire new people but having to reduce."
Fellow Republican Ken Shepro agreed in calling the justice system's projections "a staggering personnel challenge."
"I know people have tried to politicize this (reform) bill, but when it comes to facilities and staff, I don't know that there's a partisan issue there," Shepro said. "These are people who are going to be needed."
Whether or not the county uses its latest batch of pandemic-related federal funds to address the loss of bail income will be up to the full county board. Democrats have pushed for the use of funds beyond the services and functions of the county, including improving Wi-Fi and high-speed internet access throughout the county and abating lead in the county's aging water and well systems.