Illinois Bail Reform Makes Justice System More Equitable and Fair

By: Laurie Garduque

Bail Data Analysis Pretrial and Bail September 18, 2023

The justice system in MacArthur’s home state of Illinois is set to become more just, equitable, and fair without increasing crime, thanks to the Pretrial Fairness Act. While many people and organizations worked towards this landmark reform bill for years, MacArthur’s Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) helped support non-partisan analysis and research and education around key parts of the bill.

The Pretrial Fairness Act makes a range of reforms to the criminal justice system in Illinois. One of the most significant changes is eliminating cash bail and redesigning the pretrial process and decision-making. Illinois is the first state in the nation to ban cash bail entirely.

The end of cash bail in Illinois, which goes into effect September 18, 2023, will reduce the discriminatory impact of the justice system in the state. In the past, cash bail left people in jail who could not afford to pay bond, while those with greater access to resources were released and able to return to their families, jobs, and homes.

Under the new system, people are released from jail unless the State’s Attorney initiates a petition for detention, based on the risk of a defendant committing another crime or fleeing prosecution. When this occurs, a hearing is held, evidence of risk to the community is presented and evaluated, and the judge determines if pretrial release will be granted. By removing the role of money and wealth from pretrial release, the Pretrial Fairness Act will promote greater equity and fairness, particularly for people with lower income and members of historically marginalized communities in Illinois.

Analyzing the Impact of Local Reforms

While support for ending cash bail had been building for a while, some important steps happened in Cook County under their MacArthur SJC grant. The Cook County’s Office of the Chief Judge issued a general order in 2017, designed to increase pretrial release without cash bail and increase the affordability of cash bail when used as a condition of release. The chief judge received collaborative support and buy-in from other system and community stakeholders to implement these changes.

And, because SJC prioritizes data transparency and analysis, the Office of the Chief Judge shared their data with another MacArthur grantee for analysis: Loyola University of Chicago’s Center for Criminal Justice.

Loyola deserves credit for its efforts to educate journalists, government officials, and the public about how bail reform impacts community safety. Their analysis of bail reform in Cook County since 2017 traced people who had been released pretrial. What they found was invaluable to the debate around bail reform in the Pretrial Fairness Act: they learned that there was no change in the rate at which defendants were charged with new crimes in the six months or year following their release, even though the number of people released during this period increased.

Data showed that bail reform in Cook County had no effect on new criminal activity or crime. This was based on analysis performed by Loyola University Chicago under a grant from MacArthur.

Loyola’s Professors Don Stemen and David Olson concluded that Cook County’s decreased use of cash bail had no impact on new criminal activity or crime. Overall crime rates in Chicago, including violent crime rates, were not any higher after the implementation of bail reform. The analysis and findings in Cook County resembled other areas where similar bail reform efforts have been undertaken, such as New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.

The analysis also showed that releasing people while they await trial does not make communities less safe. Monetary bail, however, does impose a burden on the individuals and families who are least able to afford it. Like bail reform efforts in other communities, Cook County’s initiative demonstrated that it is possible to decrease the use of monetary bail and pretrial detention–lessening the financial, physical, and psychological harms that come with pretrial detention–without affecting criminal activity or crime rates.

Without Cook County modeling bail reform for the rest of Illinois and Loyola analyzing and sharing the results, Illinois may not have had the support to end cash bail statewide.

Implementing reforms at the local level, analyzing the results, and sharing learnings is at the heart of SJC as we try to encourage the spread of reform across the country. The Pretrial Fairness Act, a first-in-the nation law, took lessons from a local community and used it to inform smart reform decisions at the state level. This shows exactly the type of momentum the Safety and Justice Challenge was designed to push forward, and we know it will have a positive impact on people’s lives, even as there is more work to be done.



Bail Community Engagement Crime Data Analysis Featured Jurisdictions Human Toll of Jail Jail Populations Pretrial and Bail Pretrial and Jails Pretrial Justice Pretrial Services Racial Disparities July 1, 2022

Expanding Supervised Release in New York City

Safety and Justice Challenge, Center for Court Innovation

In 2015, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation launched the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC), a multi-year initiative to reduce populations and racial disparities in American jails. To advance knowledge development grounded in a research agenda that explores, evaluates, and documents site-specific strategies to safely and effectively reduce jail populations and address racial and ethnic disparities, the Foundation engaged the Institute for State & Local Governance (ISLG) at the City University of New York (CUNY) to establish and oversee an SJC Research Consortium. Consortium members are nationally renowned research, policy, and academic organizations collaborating with SJC sites to build an evidence base focused on pretrial reform efforts.

Under New York City’s Supervised Release Program (SRP) individuals awaiting trial are released under community supervision to ensure their return to court, instead of via bail or pretrial detention. Defendants are eligible for the citywide SRP if they meet specific criteria, including arrest charge type, estimated risk status, and community ties. Towards the goal of reducing the jail population, New York City expanded the City’s Supervised Release Program (SRP) several times by altering the eligibility criteria to include a wider range of individuals. The first large expansion of SRP since 2016 occurred at the beginning of June 2019. A subsequent program expansion occurred in December 2019 as New York State prepared for 2020 bail reform legislation to go into effect.

In an effort to better understand the impact of expansion of SRP as a jail-reduction strategy, ISLG and the SJC Research Consortium funded the Center for Court Innovation to examine the impact of the June 2019 expansion. The Center conducted a time series analysis to determine if observed post-expansion SRP enrollment and/or detention rates significantly differed from predicted rates. The study found that the expansion increased SRP rates across racial groups and reduced detention for non-violent felony offenses, though not for misdemeanor offenses. In addition, the findings show increased use of SRP for misdemeanor offenses, which may suggest net-widening.

Key takeaways:

  1. Increasing program participation does not always decrease detention. For small program expansions (like the 2019 expansion) to have a true impact on detention, these initiatives must target serious crimes that are likely to be detained.

  2. Large changes are needed for large impact. Larger expansions, especially those that are driven by legislative change (like the December 2019 expansion in preparation for bail reform), can have a greater impact on detention compared to smaller expansions.

  3. Targeted efforts to reduce racial disparities are necessary. Disparities are not automatically impacted by increasing program participation and decreasing detention across the board. To reduce racial disparities, targeted efforts must be made.

Together, the findings suggest that the SRP expansion reduced detention for some offenses and highlight the importance of measuring the impact of program implementation and expansion to inform future work and jail reduction efforts in New York City and other jurisdictions.

New York, NY

Change in Jail Population 40%

Action Areas Bail Courts Data Analysis Diversion

Last Updated


In 2018, New York City had the lowest incarceration rate of any large city in the country. Despite the city’s success in reducing the overall jail population, certain fundamental inequalities persisted in the jail.

People of color were overrepresented in the jail. Black and Latinx people made up a little more than half of the city’s population yet comprised nearly 90% of the local jail population from 2013 – 2018.

While the number of people in custody with behavioral health needs was falling, it was falling more slowly compared to the overall number of people in custody. In 2018, 43 percent of individuals in New York City jails had behavioral health disorders.


Since joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, New York City has advanced a number of strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system to make it more fair, just, and equitable for all.



The city updated the program model for supervised release and conducted trainings to inform the courts on the changes. The updates included expanding program eligibility to allow a younger population charged with serious offenses and expanding the range of charges that were eligible. State-wide bail reform legislation, which passed in 2019, required further expansion of the supervised release program to be made available to all individuals charged with a crime, at the discretion of the court.



Previously, incidents involving intimate partners were not permitted within the supervised release program. However, since bail reform legislation passed, and these individuals were now accepted by the program, a class specific to intimate partner violence (IPV) was developed and implemented to respond to the needs of this population. It encourages judges to allow defendants charged with IPV to participate in the supervised release program, as an alternative to jail.



The city has increased the use of alternatives to detention and incarceration for people in the jail. Specifically, the city expanded the uptake of diversion initiatives. To ensure people could be successfully diverted to these services, the city identified and addressed barriers to diversion in the arraignment process.



The city has also worked to provide enhanced information to judges in arraignments, which has included updating a release assessment tool that offers judges the likelihood that the individual will make all court appearances.



In light of criminal justice reforms, the city developed bail and discovery reform metrics. With the substantial changes made to state laws, these metrics can be used to track the implementation and progress of these reforms.


As a result of the strategies above, New York City has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system. The jail population has been reduced while keeping the community safe.

Quartery ADP for New York (2016-2023)

40.1% from baseline

More Results

Specifically, judges are using supervised release for a broader range of cases than they used to.

The city has built collaborations with other agencies, which has allowed the city to facilitate jail releases in response to COVID-19 while keeping the community safe and protecting public health.

Remaining Challenges

New York City is focused on addressing its remaining challenges in its local justice system.

With changes to the state-wide bail reform law, there is no longer a need to focus on expanding the supervised release programs. The challenge will now be to encourage judges to consider release for the more serious charges, for which bail still remains a legal option, and to continue to build out support services within the program.

The city has also been working to identify where racial and ethnic disparities occur in the justice system and will be working to address the issue going forward.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every aspect of the city’s local justice system and continues to uniquely affect those incarcerated in local jails. The NYC jail population has seen a re-increase since the beginning of the pandemic, which requires a regular review of jail reduction approaches and their effectiveness.

The foundation of collaborative, data-driven strategies, including the necessary structures and collaboration from local stakeholders that are in place to support these strategies, has set the city up well to respond to the pandemic swiftly and effectively.

Lead Agency

NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice

Contact Information

Miriam Popper


Office of Court Administration, New York City, Criminal Justice Agency, Center for Court Innovation, CASES

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Cook County, IL

Change in Jail Population 30%

Action Areas Bail Community Engagement Courts Interagency Collaboration

Last Updated


When Cook County joined the Safety and Justice Challenge, people of color were disproportionately arrested and incarcerated at higher rates than white people. Siloed criminal justice data systems across the county also made it difficult for data to be analyzed across agencies in a timely fashion.

A subset of the jail population was comprised of individuals who cycled through the system due to unaddressed mental health and/or substance use needs. Barriers to living wage employment also led individuals to engage in narcotic distribution and subsequently, people were caught up in the criminal justice system.

The overuse of detention in jail caused disruption in the stability of the families and communities of those arrested, leading to higher re-arrest rates, producing worse case outcomes, and potentially causing life-long damage to families.


Since joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, Cook County has advanced a number of strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just, and equitable for all. In addition to reducing the jail population, the county is specifically addressing the barriers that keep people in jail before their trials begin.



To ensure people are not incarcerated just because they are poor, the county implemented bond reform in 2017 to allow people who did not pose a safety risk to the community to be released from jail while awaiting trial. Bond reform included use of the Pretrial Risk Assessment tool for felony and misdemeanor cases and decreasing the number and amounts of cash bonds required for pretrial release from jail.



To increase the successful appearance rate for people released pretrial and ensure more people knew exactly when they needed to appear back in court, an Automated Court Reminder System launched in December 2017 with calls and in March 2018 with text reminders.



The county created a multidisciplinary population review team, which reviews the cases of individuals detained in jail, identifies barriers to pretrial release, addresses those barriers when possible, and identifies larger systemic challenges that can be addressed through collaborative problem solving.



The Supporting Employment and Education Development (SEED) program was created for individuals charged with felony drug distribution. The program offers comprehensive services to help these individuals seek employment at a living wage and ultimately prevent actions that harm communities. The Frequently Impacted program was established to meet the needs of people being released and support their pretrial success via contracted peer re-entry navigators.



Measuring success is a matter of being able to understand what is happening in the jails. To increase the capacity to make smart, data-driven decisions, the county improved integrations between agency data systems and created a collaborative criminal justice dashboard.



The Cook County Racial and Ethnic Equity Workgroup (CCREEW) examines each strategy using an equity assessment process and makes recommendations to ensure equity in implementation. Strategic plans are developed with the voices of people with lived experience, and the county works with communities most impacted by the justice system to talk openly about solutions and move them forward.


As a result of the strategies above, Cook County has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning their criminal justice system.

Quartery ADP for Cook County (2016-2023)

29.5% from baseline

More Results

Specifically, Cook County has been able to reduce the local jail population without putting public safety at risk. In fact, rigorous analysis completed by the Office of the Chief Judge, the JFA Institute, and Loyola University Chicago all demonstrate that eliminating cash bail in the justice system has been both safe and effective in Cook County.

In the first six months after bond reform was implemented in Cook County, more than 3,500 more people received an I-Bond—meaning that they were released without bail—who would not have received one before. Because of I-Bonds and lower D-Bond amounts, defendants saved a total $31.4 million that could instead go toward rent, food, and other essentials to support themselves and their families. In addition, 500 more people were safely released back into the community while awaiting trial.

Community voice was critical to these results. In 2020-2021, the county engaged 264 community residents who participated in 31 small group dialogues, an increase from the 144 community residents who participated in 24 small group dialogues in 2019.

Remaining Challenges

While Cook County has made significant progress in reducing its jail population, the county aims to reduce it even further, and continue addressing the barriers that keep people in jail before their trials begin.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a set of completely new challenges for the Cook County justice system, but stakeholders remain firmly committed to driving forward toward the goals of the Safety and Justice Challenge. Through continued collaboration and data-driven decision making, stakeholders regularly review strategies to course-correct and adapt, even during the most challenging of circumstances.

Finally, Governor J.B Pritzker signed the SAFE-T act on February 2, 2021 which has significant implications for Illinois and Cook County. The abolishment of cash bail, law enforcement reforms, and other pretrial reforms are covered in the legislation and county stakeholders will have to collaboratively prepare for the impact of the significant changes.

Lead Agency

Office of the Chief Judge, Circuit Court of Cook County

Contact Information

Timothy C. Evans
Chief Judge, Circuit Court of Cook County

Rebecca Barboza
Project Director


Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Cook County Health, Cook County Justice Advisory Council, Cook County President’s Office, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, City of Chicago Mayor’s Office, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Chicago Police Department, Safer Foundation, Heartland Alliance, Loyola University Chicago, Alumni Association, NAMI, North Lawndale Employment Network, and Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC), Access Living, Chicago Survivors, Apostolic Church of God, Illinois Justice Project, Lawndale Christian Legal Center, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority

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Mecklenburg County, NC

Change in Jail Population 16%

Action Areas Bail Community Engagement Pretrial Services Racial Disparities

Last Updated


Prior to joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, Mecklenburg County had successfully implemented several evidence-based practices to improve its justice system, such as using risk to inform the setting of release condition decisions, rather than relying on charge. This resulted in a significant jail population reduction, however there was still an unnecessary use of the local jail.

Too often, a jail stay depended on a person’s ability to pay money bail. Although the county increased the use of non-financial release conditions, jail stays still too often depended on a person’s ability to pay.

Pretrial status inmates and length of stay were main drivers of the jail population. In 2019, the pretrial jail population was 63% of the total average daily population.

People of color were overrepresented in the jail. In 2019, despite making up approximately 46% of the local population, Black and Hispanic people made up 78% of the jail population.


Since joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, Mecklenburg County has advanced a number of strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just and equitable for all.



The county implemented changes to its bail policy in March 2019 by removing the monetary bail schedule and creating a non-financial Release Conditions Matrix. This resulted in more individuals safely released from jail while awaiting trial. In addition, the county established a more informed and uniform bail setting process resulting in more meaningful first appearance hearings for individuals.



The county enhanced pretrial services by strengthening system efficiencies through a streamlined case processing management plan. It is also developing specialized pretrial supervision teams to better serve clients at higher risk of pretrial failure.



The county launched a Community Engagement Task Group including 10 community members. The goal of the Task Group is to ensure community members can meaningfully engage and participate in the development of policy and practice changes in the justice system, under the guidance of the Criminal Justice Advisory Group.



The county partnered with the W. Haywood Burns Institute to analyze criminal justice system data to identify and inform policy and practice changes to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system. County stakeholders also created and delivered Implicit Bias Training for Justice Professionals to improve system actors’ understanding of the intersection of race and the justice system.


As a result of the strategies above, Mecklenburg County has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system.

Quartery ADP for Mecklenburg County (2016-2023)

15.6% from baseline

More Results

There have been significant pretrial justice system improvements in the county. For example, first appearance courtrooms are now headed by a small number of trained judges, which allows for uniformity in how release and detain decisions are made. The county also established a bail policy leadership group that is staffed by an analyst and meets monthly to review outcome data.

In addition, the Criminal Justice Services (CJS) Pretrial Supervision Unit is poised to launch two specialized caseloads focused on clients who are at higher risk of pretrial failure. An assessment done by the Center for Court Innovation has provided the CJS Pretrial Supervision Unit with a set of recommendations concerning best practices around procedural justice. The Unit is working to incorporate those suggestions.

The development of the Community Engagement Task Group drew significant interest from both the local justice partners and the larger community, who are all committed to collaborating around the development of policy and practice changes in the justice system so that it is more fair, just, and equitable for all. Nearly 100 community members applied to participate in the Task Group, and 10 applicants were selected in March 2021.

By the end of Summer 2021, all county justice agencies will have implemented the Implicit Bias Training for Justice Professionals.

Remaining Challenges

Mecklenburg County is focused on addressing its remaining challenges in its local justice system.

An analysis of local criminal justice data by the W. Haywood Burns Institute identified bookings and early release decisions as the two decision points in the justice system most impacted by racial and ethnic disparities. The Community Engagement Task Group will plan to review the racial and ethnic disparities data analysis and provide feedback on policy and practice changes that will help to eliminate existing disparities in the local system.

The county is seeing an uptick in violent crime, including homicide, which has placed an emphasis on identifying dangerous individuals that are legally eligible for pretrial detention and detaining them, and appropriately supervising others while they await disposition of their case.

Last, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every aspect of the county’s local justice system. The foundation of collaborative, data-driven strategies, including the necessary structures and collaboration from local stakeholders that are in place to support these strategies, has set the county up well to respond to the pandemic swiftly and effectively. The county is focused on sustaining the work underway as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge in order to continue to support the work of reducing the local jail population and eliminating racial and ethnic disparities.

Lead Agency

Mecklenburg County Criminal Justice Services

Contact Information

Kasia Kijanczuk
Criminal Justice Planning Manager


Mecklenburg County Manager's Office, Clerk of Superior Court, Office of District Court Judges, Chief Magistrate's Office, District Attorney's Office, Public Defender's Office, North Carolina Department of Public Safety Community Corrections 26th Judicial District, Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office, Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, Law enforcement agencies in Huntersville, Pineville, Cornelius, Davidson, Matthews, and Mint Hill, Community Support Services (CSS), New Options for Violent Actions (NOVA)

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