Every reform, however necessary, will by weak minds be carried to an excess, that itself will need reforming. – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
In part one we discussed the vagaries of the Illinois’ “Pretrial Fairness Act” as well as my trepidation that, like it is with almost every pendulum swinging piece of legislation, this Springfield bond reform effort will make things worse long before it makes them better.
It wouldn’t be the first time our legion of loony legislators managed to accomplish that fascinating feat.
But since I can only speculate on what that fallout might be because I don’t have to deal with bond call on a daily basis, I turned to Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain and Chief Judge Clint Hull who are directly involved in the process. And both were kind enough to give me a half-hour of their time.
The Sheriff agreed with my theoretical arguments in favor of bond reform as outlined in the previous column, specifically citing the successful New Jersey law that’s the basis for the Illinois iteration.
“I’m a fan of cashless bail for all the reasons you cited,” Ron said, “I Like the New Jersey system because it’s scalable and judges can still issue a bond for some offenses. But in Illinois we’re looking at our deputies essentially issuing traffic tickets for class 3 and 4 felonies. It’s certainly going to be interesting.”
The Sheriff went on to point out that that there’s a “huge risk” of his officers being unable to remove trespassers from a property under the new law. Their only options will be to write a ticket or find a way to escalate the charges and take them into custody.
That new reality will be quite the disincentive for domestic violence victims to seek law enforcement relief.
Ron similarly lamented that no one behind the bill sought law enforcement input. “They missed the mark on this one,” Ron said, “I wish they took the time to visit Kane County to better understand how our brand of justice reform is reaping real dividends.”
And he’s right. The Kane County Jail population is down 35 percent and most of those folks aren’t coming back for a second “visit” either. The vast irony, of course, is the reform the Springfield Black Caucus is so desperately seeking already exists. All they have to do is open their collective eyes.
“It will also be much more difficult finding ‘exit pathways’ for non-violent offenders under the new cashless system because they won’t be held awaiting trial,” Ron added, “That means my office won’t have the opportunity to provide the kind of rehab and job programs that work to remove these individuals from what can become a vicious criminal justice system cycle.”
“We were already speaking with judiciary about using electronic monitoring if remanding is not an option,” Ron continued, “So, they’re not sitting in jail but we know where they are and our diversion teams still have that three to six months to hit them with those important services.”
The irony there is, without the opportunity to provide those anti-recidivism programs, Illinois could end up with more people in jail, and not less.
Sixteenth Circuit Chief Judge Clint Hull took a more pragmatic approach to bond reform’s early arrival. “My personal feelings about the new law are immaterial,” he said, “The legislature passed it and it’s our responsibility to implement it. Our best response is to be prepared, and being chosen as one of the three pilot circuits will give Kane County a great head start.”
Clint shared my concern that these one size fits all laws limit a judge’s discretion and rarely work out as intended. “I’m in favor of retaining judicial discr
etion, whether it’s setting bail or sentencing because no two criminal cases are alike,” he explained, “When you remove a judge’s discretion you take away the ability to use his or her professional experience which is unfortunate and not in the best interest of everyone involved.”
Clint’s final thoughts were these, “Whether or not the Illinois version bail reform turns out to be a good idea, it would’ve been nice for the 16th to have had more input into the legislative process. But we weren’t asked and there’s no point in worrying about it now. We have no choice but to move forward and make the best of it. Hopefully, particularly as a pilot county, we’ll have a greater opportunity to provide that input as we work to resolve whatever issues arise.”
I might be overestimating my own mental acuity, but it would seem that old adage about “great minds thinking alike” applies here as all three of us share the same basic concerns. And you should be troubled too because, for better or worse, the ripples of this new cashless bail system will eventually touch every single one of us.
My fondest wish is for this legislation to work out as intended. Failing that, it would be for Springfield to become far more open to working with law enforcement and the judiciary to make the adjustments these reform measures always require. Put more simply, that eternally swinging political pendulum must always bounce back a bit before any new theory settles into some semblance of a reasonable day-to-day reality.
Trust me. I plan on keeping an eye on this bail reform test run and, as always, I’ll keep you posted.