Does bail reform lead to more crime? What 2 Loyola University professors found

It would have taken a media blackout over the final months of 2022 to have missed the intense debate and heated campaign rhetoric over the SAFE-T Act and the state's plan — postponed, for now — to eliminate cash bail.

Would it, as some of the claims suggested, release countless dangerous criminals onto the streets to wreak havoc in our communities?

A pair of professors at Loyola University Chicago set out last year to find out. David Olson and Don Stemen, co-directors of Loyola's Center for Criminal Justice, examined data from 11 jurisdictions nationwide that enacted bail reform — from Alabama, where 78 municipalities eliminated bail for misdemeanors, to New Jersey, where the entire state eliminated cash bail for most offenses — to see how it affected crime rates.

Their findings?

“The increase in pretrial release had a minimal effect on the overall rates of crime in the community, and in some communities, during these periods of reform, crime was actually going down,” Olson told us this week.

The report, titled “Is Bail Reform Causing an Increase in Crime?” and released this month, is intended as an objective look at the data to counter anecdotal narratives that blame recent increases in crime on bail reform and other initiatives to keep fewer people in jail.

It found that in six of the 11 jurisdictions, violent crime not only decreased in the year after bail reform, but it did so either more than the national average or while the national average rose. In four jurisdictions, violent crime increased while the national average decreased. And in one place, violent crime increased but less than the national average that year.

The findings, the report states, showed no obvious link between crime and pretrial release. In fact, in many places, bail reform didn't significantly increase the number of people who were freed while awaiting trial.

“The difference was they didn't have to post money to the county (to go free),” Olson said.

The report does find evidence that people released from custody because of bail reform do go on to commit other crimes, but not often. In New Jersey, for example, released defendants accounted for 0.4% of all charges. In Philadelphia, they accounted for 0.9%. And here in Cook County, which since 2017 has had a policy calling for the presumption of release without bail, those released were involved in 0.6% of arrests for violent offenses.

“It's important to say there were some increases, but they were relatively small and it has to be balanced against the cost of jails,” Olson said. “Not only the financial cost, but there's a number of other costs. When someone's incarcerated pretrial, they may lose employment. Their family may suffer problems with their absence. COVID taught us that being incarcerated can expose you to illness. We also know that rates of suicide in jails are higher than the general public.

“We have to kind of look at all those collected costs against what we gain from that pretrial detention,” he said.

To read the full report, visit

Olson and the Center for Criminal Justice will continue to track bail reform in Illinois and its impacts. To follow their work, visit

Waiting game

In the meantime, advocates and opponents of the SAFE-T Act continue to await a ruling from the Illinois Supreme Court on the criminal justice reform bill.

On Dec. 28, a Kankakee County judge sided with 65 state's attorneys who'd challenged the law and ruled that eliminating cash bail would be unconstitutional. Three days later, the Supreme Court paused the implementation of the law statewide until it could make a final decision.

The state on Thursday filed a 167-page brief laying out its case. The state's attorneys challenging the law now have until Feb. 17 to reply. The Supreme Court intends to hear oral arguments on the case in March and rule sometime thereafter.

Virtual courtroom cons

Con artists are using Zoom to target people in DuPage County court hearings.

As of Thursday, judges have disabled the chat function on remote court hearings, because scammers posing as attorneys, pretrial officers and judges were using it to trick people to send them money.

Armed with information about defendants' cases, they were telling them to pay for services, or court fees and fines, using Apple Pay, Zelle, Samsung Pay, Venmo and Facebook Messenger links.

Now when they log in, defendants see a warning about this, and that there are only three ways to pay any fees or fines: in person, online through the court clerk's website or by mail.

The chat function previously was being used, legitimately, by attorneys to inform judges and clerks about cases.

Active agents

It was a busy fiscal year 2022 for U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in the Chicago area, who seized more than four tons of narcotics and $23 million in counterfeit goods from October 2021 to September 2022, officials reported this week.

In all, customs officers confiscated 3,785 shipments containing 8,174 pounds of illegally shipped drugs. That includes 1,330 pounds of prescription drugs, 970 pounds of marijuana and 103 pounds of Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, a controlled substance used for its psychoactive effects.

Officers seized another 281 shipments of counterfeit merchandise, with handbags, watches and jewelry being the most common. Nationally, customs agents seized 24.5 million shipments of counterfeit goods that would have been worth nearly $3 billion if they were legitimate.

Local agents also seized more than $1.45 million in U.S. currency and arrested 189 wanted suspects who were departing or arriving at O'Hare International Airport, officials said.

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David Olson, professor of criminal justice and criminology, Loyola University Chicago Courtesy of Loyola University Chicago, photo by Natalie Battaglia
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