U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

A Process and Impact Evaluation of Illinois' Policy to Eliminate Cash Bail and Reform Pretrial Practices

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Awardee County
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $632,781)

In collaboration with the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (state’s statistical analysis center), the applicant will conduct a mixed methods process and
impact evaluation of pretrial reforms established by Illinois’ Public Act 101-0652 (SAFE-T Act). Effective 1/2023, the Act abolishes cash bail, prohibits pretrial detention for most defendants, creates new pretrial release conditions and detention hearing processes, limits conditions placed on defendants released pretrial, and limits revocation of pretrial release and modification of conditions. The three project goals are to: (1) understand the system-wide impact of bail reforms on bond court decisions, pretrial release practices, and work routines of different justice system actors; (2) test the hypothesis that elimination of monetary bail can result in no changes in failures to appear and new criminal activity of defendants released pretrial; and (3) evaluate whether bail reform in Illinois is cost effective. The pre- and post-reform research design will examine pretrial release decisions, practices, and outcomes in 5 judicial circuits comprising 21 Illinois counties. The researchers will analyze two waves of case-level administrative data (pre- and post- 1/2023 reform cohorts) to assess the impact of SAFE-T Act reforms on pretrial processes and outcomes. Variables of interest include caseloads, timing of court events, staffing of bond court/pretrial release hearings, characteristics of defendants released/detained, use of electronic monitoring or supervision, and types of conditions imposed. They will also conduct systematic observation of pretrial court hearings, semi-structured interviews and focus groups with prosecutors, judges, and other agency stakeholders to understand the context and considerations of bond court/pretrial release decision making. Researchers will obtain data from systems maintained by the clerk of the circuit court, the probation department, and the sheriff’s office/jail in each county. Data are collected at the defendant- and charge-level with information on misdemeanor and felony cases filed (demographics, charges, bond court/pretrial release hearing outcomes, court events, charges, dispositions), all individuals supervised pretrial (demographics, charges, conditions, violations, sanctions), and all individuals admitted to or released from local jails (demographics, charges, dates of admission/release, reason for release). These data will be supplemented with defendant-level information collected through extant statewide reporting mechanisms of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts and the
Illinois State Police. Within each county, the research team will conduct systematic observations once pre-reform, and twice postreform, to gauge changes in the timing, content, and structure of the hearings pre- and post-reform. Observers will use a semi-structured instrument to collect data on group atmosphere, topics addressed, structure of bond court/pretrial release hearings, and reactions of individual defendants. Researchers will conduct 90 semi structured interviews with a purposive sample of key
institutional actors in each county during the six months prior to implementation of the reforms, plus 21 interviews 12 months post-reform. Interview subjects include the elected state's attorney, the public defender, the chief Judge, the sheriff, the director of probation, and the chief budget officer. They will also conduct 44 focus groups in 3 waves with assistant state’s attorneys, defense attorneys, judges, and pretrial and probation officers in each judicial circuit. This will allow stakeholders to explain pretrial decision-making
processes, how they interpret and implement pretrial release reforms, and how work routines are affected by pretrial release reforms. Data analyses will examine process changes in pretrial release hearing outcomes (release on recognizance, monetary bail, preventive detention, release with/without supervision, conditions of release), pretrial release, timing of release pretrial, and length of pretrial detention. The impact evaluation will examine failures to appear and new criminal offenses committed by individuals up to 12 months during pretrial release, and time to case disposition, conviction, and sentence. Logistic and ordinary least squares regression analyses will estimate bail reform effects on process and impact outcomes controlling for county, defendant demographics, risk levels, offense types, and prior criminal history. Further analysis will utilize one-to-one matching of defendants in pre- and post-reform periods, and propensity score matching to account for variables influencing release pre- and post-reform not be
independent of the variables associated with failure/rearrest. Local jail data will be analyzed to examine changes in size and composition of those held in the jail pretrial. "Note: This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law," and complies with Part 200 Uniform Requirements - 2 CFR  200.210(a)(14). CA/NCF

Date Created: October 21, 2021