Mary Dixon: Illinois is set to eliminate cash bail next year and that means judges will no longer be able to ask defendants to pay to leave jail while they await trial. Instead, a judge will decide who stays behind bars based on their alleged offense and the risk that they might run, or pose a danger. But some lawmakers are worried crime will spike with more people out of jail. They've said they'd like to see big changes to the law before it goes into effect January 1. There's been a lot of heated rhetoric and plenty of misinformation. So WBEZ's Shannon Heffernan sat down with one researcher who has been trying to cut through the noise.
Shannon Heffernan: David Olson is a criminologist at Loyola University. He spent decades studying incarceration and crime. And he says the changes that are about to happen with the elimination of bail are some of the biggest he's ever seen. And he's been working hard to gather facts, so the changes can be studied.
David Olson: I mean, I think one of the things we're trying to provide and hopefully we're doing a decent job of it is providing some objective research and data into a room where that's lacking.
Shannon Heffernan: To figure out how the end of cash bail might impact Illinois, he has been studying what's happening right now.
David Olson: Right. So one of the things we found is that the vast majority of people arrested, spend some time in jail. It might be for a few hours, it might be for a few days, but then they post the bond that's required of them or eventually they go before a judge and they're released on their own recognizance. I think just that point is important because the assumption that currently, everyone charged with a crime is held in pretrial detention until their case is disposed is inaccurate. The vast majority of people who are awaiting disposition on felony crimes, which are crimes that are serious enough to result in a prison sentence, are not held in jail on any given day. They're not under any form of pretrial supervision, they're in the community. And so, concerns that this law is going to result in a lot of people not being held in custody is somewhat misplaced, because currently, most people are not held in custody, again, they spent a brief period of time in jail.
Shannon Heffernan: And those are relatively short periods of time in jail. When people hear that they may think, okay, that's not not a big deal. Why might that actually be something that's damaging to someone's life?
David Olson: One thing for listeners think about, if you were told you can't do anything for three days, you can't go to work, you can't go to school, you can't take care of your children or pick up family members from doctor's visits or whatever other things you do in a in a course of three days. You can't do that anymore. You could recognize how that would have an adverse impact not only on the individual who may lose their job because they didn't show up for a few days. But the people that rely on or count on that individual to provide assistance and support. So again, a lot of people discount and say, well, it's only a few days, but a few days can be enough to disrupt somebody's circumstances.
Shannon Heffernan: So Olson says those folks who are currently being released, will now be released a few days earlier, alleviating disruptions to their lives, jobs or school, and they and their family won't have to come up with cash to be released.
David Olson: Kind of at the other end of the continuum, you have people charged with more serious crimes. Those under the new law that are are classified as detainable under the dangerousness consideration, you have many of the individuals charged with those crimes that currently are able to post the money and are released after a relatively brief period of time. So what what we may see as a change in who is in jail pretrial, towards those that are charged with more serious crimes, and they'll also likely be held longer because now there is no mechanism to post money and be released. They have to stay in custody until either their case is disposed, or the judge reconsiders the decision for detention.
Shannon Heffernan: Cash bail is set to end at the New Year, but lawmakers are currently debating possible changes before the law goes into effect. Shannon Heffernan WBEZ news.
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