Criminal Justice

Bail reform in this county didn't have any impact on new criminal activity, new study says

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Bail reform in the county that includes Chicago had no impact on new criminal activity or violent criminal activity of defendants who were released before trial, according to a new study.

The study, by the Loyola University Chicago, examined bail reform in Cook County, Illinois, instituted by Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans.

His September 2017 order required judges to first determine whether a defendant should be released before trial. In cases of release, a presumption of release without money bail applied. If the judge did set bail, the amount should be affordable to the defendant.

The study found that the probability of new criminal activity, after controlling for defendant and case factors, remained at about 17% before and after bail reform, while the probably of new violent criminal activity remained at 3% before and after reform.

Overall, crime rates in Chicago weren’t any higher than expected after bail reform. Expected crime rates took into account historical data and factors known to influence crime.

After controlling for defendant and case factors, about 77% of defendants were expected to be released before bail reform compared to roughly 81% after reform. After controlling for those same variables, about 26% of defendants were expected to be released on an individual recognizance bond before bail reform compared to 57% after reform.

Those who did pay cash bail were assessed lower amounts. Average bond amounts for defendants with deposit bonds, meaning that they had to pay 10% of the amount for release, decreased from $9,316 before bail reform to $3,824 after reform.

The study found that avoided bond costs saved defendants and their families more than $31.4 million in the six months after bail reform.

“It is possible to decrease the use of monetary bail and decrease pretrial detention—and lessen the financial, physical and psychological harms that come with pretrial detention—without affecting criminal activity or crime rates,” according to the study, Dollars and Sense in Cook County.

The study authors are professors Don Stemen and David Olson of the Loyola University Chicago.

Prior analyses by the Chicago Tribune and two University of Utah law professors had concluded that Evans underplayed the increase in crime that followed bail reform in his own study of the impact of bail reform. Evans had found that the percentage of felony defendants charged with a new crime while on pretrial release was similar before and after bail reform.

The Chicago Tribune and the Utah study said Evans had used a longer “before” than “after” period, giving defendants more time to commit crimes in the before period. They also said Evans failed to account for differences in seasons that affect crime rates.

But all those analyses suffered from similar methodological problems, according to the Loyola researchers. The studies that critiqued Evans relied on the same public data that he used and also failed to account for seasonality. The critiques did not rely on independent court or jail data, the Loyola researchers said.

The Chicago Tribune, the Crime Report and the Chicago Sun-Times had coverage of the new study.

During a video press conference, Olson was asked about police claims that bail reform led to an increase in Chicago crime this year.

“If bail reform practices haven’t dramatically changed this year, which we don’t believe to have occurred, then we have to start looking at all of the other possible explanations for the increase in violence,” Olson said. “With the pandemic and with the shutdown came a lot of economic stress on communities and individuals.”

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