Rushed justice reform bill will endanger society
Recently, a 611-page criminal justice reform bill, HB163, was filed for a three-day "lame-duck" legislative session this week. Unfortunately, this legislation would severely undermine public safety and change the criminal justice system to the detriment of law-abiding citizens.
Such sweeping and massive legislation should be vetted and discussed at length in committee with testimony from state's attorneys, law enforcement leaders, crime victims, and criminal justice advocates. Instead, its proponents are operating with little transparency and using propaganda from studies authored by zealous advocates for such policies, while ignoring the independent and alarming studies that highlight the very real dangers to public safety that such legislation would enable.
Changes to bail came to Cook County in 2017, and we are seeing the tragic results. In 2020, while our state saw a major increase in crime, that increase was most pronounced in Chicago, where shootings and murders rose by 50 percent. Beginning in 2017, Cook County implemented bail reforms that instituted a strong presumption of release for most defendants charged with crimes and required judges to order affordable bail for defendants.
When the University of Utah published their independent study on the effect of these bail reforms in Cook County, they estimated that the number of defendants released who were charged with committing new crimes increased by 45 percent and the number of defendants released who committed violent crimes increased by 33 percent. The Chicago Tribune conducted their own analysis and found that, in the 15 months after bail reform was implemented, 21 of the defendants that were released because of the reforms committed murder. Bail reform hasn't just affected crime in Chicago, the New York Police Department saw a 20 percent increase in serious crime within just the first two months of politicians in that state enacting similar bail "reforms."
We agree that one's ability to pay bail should not be the determining factor with regards to pretrial release for a criminally charged defendant. However, replacing the current cash bail system with a system of detention only when a defendant is accused of one of a closed list of specific crimes and the defendant "poses a real and present threat to a specific, identifiable person or persons, or has a high likelihood of willful flight" is going to put the community and, most importantly, crime victims, at greater risk of further harm. This language goes further than even the so-called reforms in Cook County. Make no mistake about it, the current proposal removes the ability to show that a defendant "poses a danger to the community" at-large, and, thus, will put all of our communities in danger.
Currently, judges across the state have tremendous discretion to decide to release people charged with crimes from custody. They can choose to release people without the posting of bail. They can also decide to keep more dangerous people in custody. If we are going to replace this current system, we must first be certain that the new system will not severely endanger the public. This proposal would do exactly that.
• Illinois Senators John Curran and Steve McClure are Republicans from Lemont and Springfield, respectively.