What will Bail Reform Act mean for Kane County jail?

A new Illinois law to keep people out of the Kane County jail who can't afford to pay for their release will also decrease county revenue, increase public defender costs and create a more volatile concentration of hard-core offenders at the jail, according to the county's top law enforcement officers.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the Bail Reform Act last Friday. The law is a move toward excluding cash from the decision on keeping people in jail before a trial. Judges will view nonviolent misdemeanors and low-level felony arrests with an eye toward electronic home monitoring, curfews and counseling.

People sent to jail despite consideration of those alternatives must receive a second bail hearing within seven days of incarceration. Those who can't come up with bail money within seven days are less likely to have the means to pay it. The second hearing determines — based on the nature of the crime, possible penalties, prior criminal history and personal circumstances — if the person can be released.

Statewide, the expectation is there will be fewer people crowding local jails. That's not the expectation in Kane County.

Kane was one of three counties to pilot some of the features of the law about 18 months ago. There have been two discernible impacts.

The first is a loss of revenue. State law allows circuit court clerks to keep 10 percent of any bail money. Fewer people released on bail means less money for the circuit court clerk. Kane County projects a $200,000 loss this year even as it faces a midyear $2.8 million budget deficit.

County officials hoped to make up for the revenue loss with savings from fewer jail inmates. Instead, an uptick in violent crime fueled a 10 percent increase in the jail population.

Sheriff Don Kramer couldn't explain why violent crime is up. However, an increasing number of his inmates are from Chicago.

State's Attorney Joe McMahon said I-88 and I-90 are turning into crime highways, giving Chicago-based gangs access to suburban drug users and creating new turf wars.

“One of the big changes I've seen this year, and the tail end of last year, is the frequency of gun use,” McMahon said. “We're seeing more shots fired throughout the county.”

With judges releasing fewer risky inmates, the county's jail is now home to mostly only “very bad people,” according to Kramer.

The Bail Reform Act will now add the second bail hearing aspect to what the county already has in place. Those hearings are an added cost. The law requires the presence of a public defense attorney at every bail hearing, including the weekends. Kane County does not have enough public defenders to staff those additional hearings.

The plan, starting next week, is to hire a private attorney to staff those hearings, creating a cost that could become even more expensive by the end of the year.

Kane County Public Defender Kelli Childress told county officials Thursday she believes it is unlikely the county will find a private attorney willing to give up all other legal work to staff the county's bail hearings. It's more likely the county will have to hire at least one more public defender with the additional salary, insurance and pension benefits that come with such an employee.

County officials expressed various levels of disdain for what they labeled as yet another unfunded mandate created by state lawmakers. Court administrator Doug Naughton said the county's judicial system would adjust as needed under the new law.

“This is a work in progress,” Naughton said. “And we're ahead of the game. Many counties don't even know that this law applies to everybody.”

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