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.


Reducing Frequent Jail Contact to Lower Jail Populations

By: Sarah Desmarais, Samantha Zottola

Data Analysis Frequent Jail Users Jail Populations July 25, 2023

If they go to jail at all, most people in America only do so once. But in communities across the country, there is often a small group of people who account for a large number of jail admissions. They also account for a large portion of total jail expenditures. A new two-year research project sought to better understand this population in three communities and makes policy recommendations from which others can learn. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation funded the study as part of their Safety and Justice Challenge, which seeks to reduce jail populations.

How Did the Researchers Work and What Did They Find?

The study incorporated quantitative and qualitative methods. Researchers drilled into at least eight years’-worth of data from each of three communities to identify and describe the population of people with frequent jail contact. They also conducted interviews with 27 practitioners across a range of service sectors and 23 people with lived experience. Finally, they used both the quantitative and qualitative data to examine the strategies used by each community participating in the study to reduce jail contact.

The research found people with frequent bookings accounted for about one-half of all the bookings that occurred during the study period. Across communities participating in the study, people with frequent jail contact account for a majority of bookings, but account for a minority of the people booked. People of color and people with behavioral health needs are overrepresented. The study’s findings also emphasize complex interrelationships between race and ethnicity, gender, and behavioral health needs. They point to potential disconnects between the perceived and actual characteristics of people with frequent jail contact.

Different communities used different strategies to aid people with frequent jail contact but most did not have strategies intended for that exclusive purpose. Rather, they implemented strategies intended to aid everyone. All participating communities selected diversion strategies for people with behavioral health conditions as their primary intervention for the study’s focus. And the study found that behavioral health diversion strategies may improve outcomes for people with frequent jail contact. More broadly, the study findings underscore the importance of comprehensive community-based resources to support the success of behavioral health diversion programs. Findings also show the need for strategies that cross many systems and levels of policy and practice.

Policy Recommendations

Based upon the study findings, the researchers have nine policy recommendations:

  1. Create a Data Sharing Ecosystem

To meet the complex needs of people with frequent jail contact—especially individuals with behavioral health challenges—criminal legal and behavioral health systems need a common data sharing language and platform. Ideally, the common language and platform would extend to other systems as well, such as social and emergency services.

  1. Establish Formal, Jurisdiction-Specific Definitions

Jurisdictions should develop formal definitions or criteria to support the consistent operationalization and identification of people with frequent jail contact. These definitions should drive the development and implementation of related policies.

  1. Use Validated Behavioral Health Screening Tools

Consistent with the standards for health services in jails and prisons, universal screening using validated screening tools should take place during the intake process at each door into and away from the criminal legal system.

  1. Implement Psychiatric Advanced Directives

Psychiatric advance directives are intended to enable self-determined treatment, and effective and clear communication from a past and competent self, for individuals who are at risk of losing decisional capacity at some point in the future.

  1. Facilitate Jail In-Reach Programs

Trust and engagement are key to successful reentry for people with frequent jail contact. Jail in-reach programs allow practitioners to meet with people in the jail before release, assess their needs when back in the community, develop a plan to meet those needs, identify how community providers can assist, and provide coordinated support as people transition into the community.

  1. Increase Peer Support Programs

Peer support programs should be a key feature of policies designed to reduce frequent jail contact. While the focus is typically on lived experience with behavioral health systems, people with lived experience of the criminal legal system, specifically, share a common understanding of the challenges and resources necessary for successful reentry.

  1. Improve Access to Housing

Affordable housing is scarce in most communities. Providing safe, sustainable, and supportive housing for people involved in the criminal legal system with behavioral health conditions can be a challenge, but it is critical to reducing frequent jail contact.

  1. Increase Utilization of Community-Based Services

When possible, people should be given the necessary supports in navigating the continuum of care. In addition to warm handoffs from one service provider or program to another, other examples include a shared video chat with a new provider or engaging peer support services during transitions.

  1. Center and Evaluate Efforts for Racial Equity 

Evaluations suggest that efforts to reduce frequent jail contact have had limited success in improving racial equity in this population, likely due to multiple, intersecting factors. Communities should work to mitigate systemic racism through the operations of their criminal legal and behavioral health services for people with frequent jail contact and examine the success of these efforts through formal evaluations.

Focusing on Latinos in the U.S. Criminal Justice System

By: Nancy Rodriguez

Data Analysis Jail Populations Racial Disparities June 12, 2023

Three new policy briefs have major implications for Latinos in the justice system, including in American jails, based on data and research from sites supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge. The briefs explore how to better track Latino involvement in criminal justice systems, the role of language accessibility in criminal justice systems, and the value of adopting a nuanced approach to immigration enforcement policies at the local level.

A Review of Data Collection Practices and Systems-Involvement

The first brief, “Exploring Latino/a Representation in Local Criminal Justice Systems,” is a review of data collection practices and systems-involvement in local criminal justice systems, with a focus on Latino/a representation. It examines how local agencies in participating sites capture racial and ethnicity information. It also explores the involvement of Latinos/as in local criminal justice systems, including racial and ethnic disparities at the front door, in pretrial outcomes, and in criminal case outcomes. Its findings shed light on the development of much-needed data-driven reforms to the system to further racial equity.

Today, nearly one in five people in the U.S. self-identify as being of Latino origin. Remarkably, despite the size and diversity of the Latino population in the U.S., we do not know how many Latinos are arrested. That’s because we are still not collecting the data in enough detail.

How Latino and Hispanic ethnicity data is stored in local criminal justice systems is inconsistent and inhibits system-wide understanding of racial and ethnic disparities across local jurisdictions.

Even where fields exist to capture ethnicity information within a database, the data is not always consistently collected for all cases passing through key criminal justice system points. Even where agencies have the capacity to capture Latinos’ ethnicity, low rates of reporting and high proportions of missing data impedes accurate measurement of Latino outcomes.

At the front door to the justice system—arrest and jail booking—Latinos in all four sites—Charleston County, South Carolina; Harris County, Texas; Multnomah County, Oregon; and, Palm Beach County, Florida—make up a smaller proportion of those arrested or booked compared to their countywide population. Conversely, Black and Indigenous individuals were over-represented in arrests and jail bookings, relative to their countywide populations.

Latino and White rates of justice involvement were similar—and in many cases rates of Latino involvement were lower than that of Whites. However, Black individuals—particularly young Black individuals—were subject to substantially elevated rates of arrest, jail booking, and court convictions (and dismissals), demonstrating a considerable concentration of justice system contact for the Black community.

The brief makes several policy recommendations to address these disparities and disproportionalities. They include improving data collection practices, developing a standard set of categories to facilitate clear standards for data sharing and data translation between systems, encouraging regular examination of outcomes by race, ethnicity, and age group, and promoting community engagement and collaboration to identify ways to reflect the Latino/a population more accurately in local justice systems.

Establishing, Implementing, and Maintaining a Language Access Program

The second brief focuses on language accessibility in criminal justice systems, specifically focusing on the SJC. Language barriers can negatively impact legal representation and outcomes for non-English speakers in criminal cases.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires federally funded agencies to provide meaningful access to their programs and activities. This brief surveyed several local criminal justice systems and discovered significant gaps in the availability of language services for those who are LEP despite the provisions of Title VI. The report finds that while organizations and agencies within local criminal justice systems often receive federal funding, and are therefore mandated to provide language services, specific practices and the extent to which services are made available in these systems remains relatively unknown.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Data around language needs and services is inconsistently collected. Less than half of respondents reported collecting data on how frequently language services are utilized, and about half reported making efforts to address language access complaints beyond a case-by-case basis (e.g., regular reviews of complaints and outreach to specific language minority groups).
  • Despite the existence of bilingual and/or multilingual staff, most are not formally equipped to provide interpretation services. Approximately 94 percent of respondents reported that they have bilingual and/or multilingual employees. However, less than half of these employees are certified translators, and less than half offer pay differentials to employees who use their language skills on the job.
  • Translated content is lacking in digital spaces, written materials, and public signage. Less than half of respondents said their official website contains translated content, and less than half reported that public notices are translated into a language other than English. Despite more than half of all respondents reporting that they have translated materials, there are some languages for which no written translation is provided by any of the respondents. 

The report recommends that every individual who meets local criminal justice systems has access to services in their primary language. It makes the following policy recommendations:

  • Facilitate the hiring and training of bilingual and/or multilingual staff and interpreters and prioritize pay differentials for staff that are certified to use their language skills on the job.
  • Consistently collect and analyze data to better understand the language needs of local populations and assess whether the language capacities of the organization are sufficient to meet the identified language needs.
  • Ensure that all written content is translated, or can be quickly translated if needed.

It is important to note that language accessibility in criminal justice systems is not only about providing interpreters. It also involves the ability of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and those who have cognitive disabilities (e.g., intellectual disability) to communicate effectively with criminal justice system actors. In addition, individuals must be able to understand the legal process and make informed decisions about whether they want an attorney or to represent themselves without being coerced by others.

Immigration Enforcement Policies and Detainer Trends in SJC Sites

The third policy brief outlines the landscape of immigration policies across four SJC sites— Harris County, Texas, Los Angeles County, California, New York City, New York, and Cook County, Illinois—and illustrates how jail populations intersect with immigration enforcement policy.

Key findings include:

  • Specific attention on immigration is required to address racial inequities in local justice systems. The findings indicate that pursuing policies designed to lower jail incarceration and improve racial equity do not by default include an assessment of how immigration policies impact the system involvement of Latinos/as and undocumented persons.
  • Jurisdictions restrict and permit collaboration with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to varying and inconsistent degrees. While 70 percent of sites enacted limitations on some type of immigration enforcement cooperation, nearly 78 percent of jurisdictions lack a formal policy on ICE detention contracts; the absence of clear policy may permit further collaboration.
  • A majority of jurisdictions lack formal policies regarding the use of state and local resources to enforce federal immigration law. The majority of sites have no formal policy. However, 18 percent of sites restrict the use of funds for immigration enforcement, while 6 percent of sites expressly permit the use of local resources.

The brief includes policy recommendations for SJC sites:

  • Restrict the use of state and local resources to execute policies that enforce federal immigration law and contribute to racial disparities.
  • Limit local data sharing and collaboration with ICE.
  • Limit the outsourcing of local jail beds for immigration detention purposes.
  • Identify how local immigration policies are impacting the system involvement of Latino/as and undocumented populations

Nuanced criminal justice reform is needed around immigration policies at the local level. Future research should examine the intersection of immigration policies and the policing of Latino communities to offer insight into the treatment and justice system outcomes of Latinos/as and undocumented immigrants.

Collectively, I hope these three policy briefs will form the basis for deepening the national conversation about racial equity in the criminal justice system—particularly through a Latino/a lens.

Issue Brief

Costs Data Analysis Immigration May 23, 2023

Immigration Enforcement Policies and Detainer Trends in SJC Sites

UCI School of Sociology: Department of Criminology, Law and Society

The Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) was launched by the MacArthur Foundation in 2015 to assist local criminal justice systems in reducing their jail populations and advancing racial equity. To date, MacArthur has supported a total of 57 cities and counties1, which comprise a national network of local criminal justice systems committed to reducing the footprint of the justice system. While ameliorating disparities and social inequalities permeate recent justice policies, these efforts coincide with a rise in anti-Latino/a rhetoric and the evolution of anti-immigration measures. Anti- Latino/a rhetoric associated with anti-immigrant sentiment is not new; in fact, scholars have noted that historically, racial scripts of Mexicans and Mexican Americans living in the United States have included depictions of noncitizens and individuals undeserving of resources (Molina, 2014). Historically, immigration policy has fluctuated in response to labor demand and anti-immigrant sentiment (e.g., Molina, 2014; Massey, 2009). Most recently, there has been a devolution of federal immigration enforcement to localities, which has led to anti-immigration campaigns and the introduction of approximately 1,500 local anti-immigration ordinances in state and local legislatures (Koulish, 2010, p.138-139). Secure Communities, an example of immigration devolution, was a 2008-to-20212 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiative requiring the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to share fingerprints with DHS to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to identify undocumented immigrants. The 287 (g) agreements establish a partnership with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal agencies to remove undocumented individuals.3 Additionally, traffic violations can also be counted as crimes for the purpose of removal (Abrego, Coleman, Martinez, Menjivar, & Slack, 2017). Advocates and academics have recently documented how 287(g) agreements have increased policing in Latino/a neighborhoods and how traffic enforcement is used to investigate legal status (Coleman & Kocher, 2019). Equally concerning is the fact that the devolution of immigration enforcement to interior enforcement has spillover effects on all Latino/as (Aranda, Menjivar, & Donato, 2014).

Robust immigration enforcement by local, state, and federal authorities is currently the backdrop of criminal justice reform efforts. Immigration policies can influence how local law enforcement engages with undocumented populations, which may include Latino/a communities. Immigration enforcement and local-federal cooperation can result in an increase in arrests and detainers. A detainer is an immigration hold request that allows ICE to remove undocumented individuals from federal, state, or local custody. During the Trump Administration, the number of immigration arrests increased from a total of 30,028 in 2016 to 41,328 in 20174 and detainers increased from 85,720 in 2016 to 142,474 in 2017 (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse). Moreover, anti-immigrant policies persist despite overwhelming evidence that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans and that communities with a higher proportion of immigrants have lower crime rates (National Academy of Sciences, 2015; Ousey & Kubrin, 2018; Zatz & Rodriguez, 2015).

We Can Reduce Jail Populations and Keep Communities Safe

By: Laurie Garduque

Crime Data Analysis Jail Populations April 6, 2023

A recent uptick in violent crime across the country has alarmed many Americans. But even as communities work to address the root causes of violence and the effects of incarceration, new data from our Safety and Justice Challenge shows there is no link between reducing jail populations and increases in crime. Communities can feel confident in efforts to reform the local criminal justice system and safely reduce the jail population.

Since 2013, MacArthur has invested over $323 million in local justice reform, including tracking progress and analyzing the effectiveness of reform strategies. We have built close partnerships with research leaders in the criminal justice field, including grantee City University of New York’s Institute for State & Local Governance (ISLG) and the JFA Institute, to examine data from cities and counties participating in the Safety and Justice Challenge.

From this deep engagement with data and our relationships with diverse experts and people with lived experience, we have learned many valuable lessons. And the findings of two new reports—“Jail Populations, Violent Crime, and COVID-19: Findings from the Safety and Justice Challenge” by ISLG and “The Impact of COVID-19 on Crime, Arrests, and Jail Populations” by the JFA Institute—are among the most useful and insightful, and reinforce with data what we have heard from people involved in the justice system.

These analyses looked at what happens when cities and counties across the country focus on criminal justice reforms that make the system more fair, just, and equitable. They found that in communities participating in the Safety and Justice Challenge, there is no relationship between reforms that reduce reliance on jails and recent upticks in violent crime across the United States.

Reducing Jail Populations While Keeping Communities Safe

Since the Safety and Justice Challenge began, participating cities and counties have collectively reduced their jail population by 20 percent. This has resulted in about 15,000 fewer people in jail on any given day, allowing individuals, who are legally presumed to be innocent, to instead remain with their families, communities, and hold onto their jobs while their cases were pending.

JFA Institute’s close examination of the data found that even considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which temporarily reduced jail populations dramatically nationwide, most Safety and Justice Challenge cities and counties continued to outperform the nation as a whole in reducing jail populations, without jeopardizing community safety. As COVID-19 mitigation efforts wane, these communities have shown that progress can be sustained. Many of the emergency measures taken to reduce the jail populations during the pandemic, and that have remained in place in the months since, do not have an impact on public safety.

Meanwhile, ISLG’s analysis looks at how often individuals released from jail return to custody while their criminal case is still pending. The findings, which use individual-level jail admissions data from 2015 through April 2021, show that reforms focused on releasing people from jail before their trial did not drive recent increases in violent crime. The report found:

  • There is no correlation between declines in jail incarceration and increases in violent crime through COVID-19.
  • Most individuals released on pretrial status were not rebooked into jail. This has remained consistent over the years.
  • Of the small percentage of the individuals rebooked into jail, it was very rare that they returned with a violent crime charge and exceedingly rare that they returned with a homicide charge.

The evidence is clear: cities and counties should push forward with making the criminal justice system more equitable and fair. The decreased use of jails has no impact on crime, particularly violent crime, and communities should look beyond incarceration to address safety concerns. To claim that reforms jeopardize community safety ignores the data and unnecessarily puts the lives of incarcerated individuals and their families at risk.