Loyola study confirms that bail reforms increase equal justice, do not increase crime

Released On 11/19/2020

A new Loyola University study finds that a bail reform order issued by Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans in 2017 has saved Cook County residents from having to post more than $31 million in bail in just one six-month period and kept hundreds out of jail, while not contributing to an increase in crime. 

The independent Loyola study, issued on Thursday, largely confirms findings of a 2019 operational report on felony bail reform conducted by the Office of the Chief Judge. The Loyola study, called “Dollars and Sense in Cook County: Examining the Impact of General Order 18.8A on Felony Bond Court Decisions, Pretrial Release, and Crime,” was written by Don Stemen, Associate Professor and Chairperson in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, and David Olson, Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology and Co-Director of Loyola’s Center for Criminal Justice Research, Policy, and Practice. 

“This study confirms what our office has previously determined in our own review – that bail reform furthers the cause of justice and equality by releasing defendants not deemed a danger to any person or the public,” said Judge Evans. “Defendants should not be sitting in jail awaiting trial simply because they lack the financial resources to ensure their release.” 

“Both imprisonment before trial and steep bond amounts can be harmful to defendants and to their families, leading to job loss and other personal and financial difficulties, which can in turn lead to more trouble with the law.” said Evans. “If they pose no danger to the public, persons should not be punished before being convicted of a crime.” 

Under bail reform, defendants who pose no danger to the public are released from custody pending trial because monetary bail is a last resort, and any bail amounts are set at an amount they can afford. 

When setting bond, judges consider multiple factors, including the facts of the case, requirements of Illinois statute, input from the defense and prosecution, and the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) tool. The PSA tool, which is applied in misdemeanor and felony cases, helps judges assess danger to the public. This tool calculates the risk of failure to appear, risk of new criminal activity, and risk of new violent criminal activity to assist judges in setting appropriate supervision conditions if the defendant is released into the community. 

The study compared two groups of defendants – 12,756 defendants with an initial felony bond court hearing in the six months between November 1, 2015 and April 30, 2016, and another group of 11,372 defendants with an initial felony bond court hearing in the six months between November 1, 2017 and April 30, 2018. Starting with the initial bond court date, researchers observed each set of defendants for 12 months or until the case disposition, whichever came first. Choosing this observation period was intended to standardize the risk period for pretrial failures and adjust for any seasonal effects on crime. The researchers used data provided by the Institute of State and Local Governance, which included jail entry and exit information from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, along with publicly available crime reports from the Chicago Police Department. 

The research found that, in the pre- and post-bail reform periods: 

  • The number of I-Bonds or personal recognizance bonds given to defendants increased to 57% from 26% in the pre-bail reform period; 
  • When D-Bonds are issued, which require a defendant to pay 10% of the bond amount, their average value decreased from $9,298 to $3,824; 
  • 3,559 more felony defendants received I-Bonds in the post-period than would have had there been no change in policy; 
  • Defendants who were ordered to an I-Bond instead of a D-Bond or ordered to pay a D-Bond with a lower value avoided $31.4 million in bond costs; 
  • A larger percentage of felony defendants secured pretrial release in the post-period, going up to 81% from 77%, for a total of 500 more defendants.  

    The study found a small increase in the “failure to appear” rate among felony defendants who secured pretrial release, from 17% to 20%.  However, there was no difference in the rate of new criminal activity between the pre- and post-bail reform periods. In both study periods, the study found that about 17% of defendants who secured pretrial release were alleged to have engaged in new criminal activity, and of this group, about 3% engaged in new violent criminal activity.  

    A review of Chicago property and violent offenses, including violent offenses with a firearm, in the first year after the bail reform order took effect, found no increase in crime.  

    The Loyola study concluded that the order did not dramatically change the number of people released pretrial, but did change how they were released. Bail reform decreased financial burdens on defendants and their families without increasing new criminal activity, the study found.  

    “Everyone wants safe communities,” Stemen and Olson wrote. “Releasing people on their own recognizance does not make communities less safe. Taking money away from people to secure their release does not make communities safer − but it does impose a significant burden on those individuals and their families who can least afford it.”  

    The study also found a notable increase in the probability of Black defendants receiving an I-Bond − going from 24.8% of Black defendants before bail reform to 56.1% after, compared with 26.1% and 53.6% of white defendants in the same periods. This shows that bail reform has helped further the cause of racial justice in Cook County.  

    While it arrived at nearly identical findings as the 2019 Office of the Chief Judge report, the Loyola bail reform study addressed academic and media critiques of the earlier analysis. The OCJ report had been criticized for using unequal follow-up periods for the pre- and post-bail reform period when observing initial outcomes, not counting all person offenses as violent, not adjusting for seasonal effects, and not appropriately looking at the order’s effect on all crime, the Loyola study said. The Loyola study addressed all of these critiques.

    For a copy of the report, click here.

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