April 30, 2020
A Commission of the Illinois Supreme Court tasked with making recommendations for comprehensive pretrial reform in Illinois released its final report earlier this month. The Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices makes recommendations that cover pretrial procedures from arrest to bail setting and supervision orders.
Among the 54 recommendations included in the report, the Commission recommends the creation of a statewide validated pretrial risk assessment to help judges determine whether to hold or release a defendant, guidance for when a defendant should be held in jail, the creation of a Pretrial Division within the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts as well as local pretrial services agencies within each judicial circuit to implement statewide pretrial recommendations, the establishment of performance measures to analyze the effectiveness of the pretrial justice system and the implementation of a statewide data collection system.
The Civic Federation is particularly interested in the Commission’s recommendations that address data collection improvements, because justice system agencies’ ability to make data-informed decisions and evaluate programs is critical to their effectiveness and accountability. The Federation agrees with the Commission that “accurate data is necessary to review and assess the efficacy of systemwide change and outcomes.” Civic Federation President Laurence Msall provided testimony at the June 17, 2019 public hearing held by the Commission on Pretrial Practices, urging the Commission to recommend the creation of a statewide system for the collection and public dissemination of data on pretrial actions and outcomes.
The Commission’s report includes recommendations that would significantly advance the use of evidence-based pretrial practices and bring Illinois in line with the National Institute of Corrections’ framework for a highly effective pretrial system. For example, recommendations address the importance of collecting the right data to accurately measure the risk associated with releasing a defendant and avoid overreliance on pretrial supervision measures, as well as keeping track of defendants’ compliance with release conditions.
Regarding standardized data collection, the Commission recommends that:
- The Illinois General Assembly allocate sufficient funding to implement and sustain a robust individual-level data collection system for statewide uniform reporting; and
- Absent a statewide data collection system, the Illinois Supreme Court should request additional State resources for counties to add required data elements to their existing data collection system.
The Federation is encouraged by the Commission’s recognition of this need for improved pretrial data. However, the Commission does not provide details about how the State would accomplish statewide uniform data collection or specifics on what data elements every county should be collecting using their existing systems.
Need for Pretrial Data
The need for better pretrial data collection and sharing in Illinois is well established, but the State-led response has been slow. While there are statewide systems for the collection and tracking of case-level data at most points in the life of a criminal case (arrest, charging, case disposition, sentencing, and prison admissions and releases), there is currently no statewide collection or reporting of case-level bond and pretrial release decisions or pretrial jail admissions. With current decentralized data collection methods, it is challenging for decision-makers and the public to understand the effectiveness of pretrial practices and procedures. Better data collection and coordination is needed in order for more research to be done on the impact of decisions made in the pretrial process, such as bail setting vs. detention, the use of risk assessments in setting pretrial supervision conditions and the use of electronic monitoring, and whether pretrial programs serve their intended purpose.
Former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform issued a final report in December 2016 that included several recommendations on data collection. The Commission suggested improving and expanding data collection, integration and sharing and the establishment of an Illinois Data Exchange Coordinating Council to facilitate information sharing between state and local units of government. The Commission also recommended that the State of Illinois collect and report data on race and ethnicity at every point in the criminal justice system in order to allow a systematic assessment of disproportionate impact of the justice system on minorities. The data recommendations of the Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform have not been implemented.
One effort to collect and analyze criminal justice performance indicators in Illinois was undertaken by Measures for Justice, a nonprofit that has developed a nationwide data portal that publishes county-level performance measures to assess the criminal justice process from arrest to post-conviction. Measures for Justice began collecting data from five counties in Illinois, including Cook County, in 2015 in coordination with the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts. The effort was funded by a $480,000 six-year grant from the MacArthur Foundation. However, despite years of work collecting and validating the data, the measures have not been posted to the Measures for Justice data portal.
Considerations for Implementing Pretrial Reform and Technology Improvements
According to the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices final report, a survey completed in 2019 found that there are currently 20 different case management systems utilized throughout the Illinois’ 102 counties to collect and store court case information. What pretrial information is currently being captured by all of those systems is not discussed in the Commission’s report.
The report states that Illinois will need to purchase a unified data system. At a budget hearing on March 5, 2020, Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke requested $1.6 million in funding from the Illinois General Assembly to purchase technology for a statewide court system to track information such as the number of people in jail, how long they remain in jail and the length of a case. It is unclear whether this would accomplish creating a unified data system that collects all the pretrial data needed for system evaluation discussed in the Commission’s recommendations.
By comparison, New Jersey spent $7 million on an update to its pretrial software, according to the Commission’s report. The Commission points to New Jersey’s criminal justice reform efforts as a model throughout the report. New Jersey’s sweeping pretrial reform is considered to be a success, as the pretrial jail population has been significantly reduced while failures to appear in court and re-arrest rates have remained the same.
In addition to technology costs, and in order to support comprehensive pretrial practices reform, the Commission on Pretrial Practices report estimates that the cost for the number of pretrial personnel positions statewide needed to support meaningful reform would be over $40 million. The State of Illinois budget for FY2020, which ends June 30, 2020, contains $13.5 million in funding for pretrial positions. New Jersey’s total pretrial reform cost an estimated $40-50 million according to the Commission’s report.
The Commission rightly concludes that significant funding for pretrial reform is needed. However, in addition to funding, Illinois officials also need to agree on what data all counties should be collecting, provide guidance to support this effort and ensure that the data is reported to the public.
What Pretrial Data Should be Collected and Reported?
What does the term “pretrial data” entail? The Commission on Pretrial Practices report does not go into the details of data that should be collected. In general, pretrial data involves circuit court bond hearings and county jail data tracked by circuit court clerks and county sheriffs. These data would help answer questions such as:
- How many defendants are ordered to be held in jail pretrial and why? What are their charges and how do they score on pretrial risk assessments?
- How many defendants are ordered monetary bail and how many are able to pay for their release?
- How long do people spend on average in jail pretrial? How many bailable defendants are released within 24 hours, three days, one week, or longer?
- How do individual judges’ bond court decisions compare?
- How do risk assessment scores correspond with judges’ decisions about release and supervision levels?
- What conditions are placed on released defendants, such as pretrial supervision or electronic monitoring?
- How many released defendants fail to appear in court for scheduled hearings or get re-arrested while out on bond?
- How much revenue do counties collect from bond payments and other court fines and fees?
In order to answer these questions, counties must keep up-to-date and accurate case-level data for each defendant that can then be aggregated into pretrial statistics. The Civic Federation maintains that, at the minimum, the following statistics should be reported for each county and made available to the public:
- The number of bond court hearings, with breakdowns of defendants by race/ethnicity, age and sex;
- Bond orders by type (release on recognizance, release with payment of 10% of bond, release with payment of 100% of bond, held without release);
- Pretrial supervision requirements ordered as conditions of release and the pretrial risk assessment scores associated with supervision orders;
- Pretrial admissions to jail by type of bond order and type of charge;
- The length of time pretrial defendants spend in jail by type of bond order and type of charge; and
- The number of defendants released who fail to appear at scheduled court hearings or are arrested on new charges.
A bill introduced in the 101st Illinois General Assembly by Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth, House Bill 2689, would accomplish detailed data collection including the data points described above. As directed in the bill, county agencies would submit data to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, which would publish monthly statistical reports. A summary of the bill can be found here. The Civic Federation supports this bill as a means to achieving objective, uniform, statewide pretrial data reporting in the absence of requirements mandated by the Illinois Supreme Court.
The National Institute of Corrections provides best practice guidance on specific performance measures and data points for pretrial agencies to use to evaluate pretrial program performance.
Civic Federation Recommendation to the Illinois Supreme Court
The Civic Federation commends the Illinois Supreme Court’s Commission on Pretrial Practices for a thoughtful and thorough analysis on how to move the State forward with comprehensive pretrial system improvements. We hope to see the recommendations implemented and incorporated into the strategic planning efforts outlined in the Illinois Judicial Branch Strategic Agenda 2019-2022. The Strategic Agenda includes the goal of developing standardized data collection, analysis, and reporting in all courts in the State, and the year-one initiatives of the Strategic Agenda include developing standard definitions for data points and identifying court data and performance measures that should be collected.
As the Illinois Supreme Court considers the recommendations of the Commission on Pretrial Practices, the Civic Federation urges the Illinois Supreme Court and the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC) to take the following immediate next steps:
- Finalize a list of pretrial performance measures and the data metrics that every county should be collecting, and make the list available online to the public;
- Provide guidance to counties that are not currently capturing the required data metrics on how to change the way they collect information, and eventually make the data collection a requirement that is enforced by the AOIC;
- Identify any improvements to the data currently collected by the AOIC from county pretrial agencies that can be made in the absence of larger technology system changes, both in content and format. For example, review currently used forms and Microsoft Excel templates and update them to capture information that is more useful for evaluation purposes, and provide clear definitions for the data elements that should be reported;
- Compile the pretrial data collected into county-level and State-level statistical reports that are disseminated publicly on the Illinois Supreme Court website on at least a quarterly basis and in the Supreme Court’s annual statistical reports so that the data can be easily accessed and analyzed by researchers, advocates, journalists and the general public;
- Create a page on the Illinois Supreme Court website dedicated to information about pretrial reform for criminal justice stakeholders, the public and media, as described in recommendation #53 of the final report. Use this web page to publish county and State-level pretrial data reports and updates on pretrial reform progress; and
- Meet with other State criminal justice agencies and members of the Illinois General Assembly to begin serious discussions about needed technology system improvements to achieve a statewide case-level database, identify the costs associated with the needed technology systems and identify potential funding structures.
The State of Illinois needs strong leadership to achieve the enormous task of reforming the pretrial system and accomplishing statewide uniform data collection. The Civic Federation urges the Illinois Supreme Court to take up this leadership role and proceed with the highest level of transparency.
 Loyola University Chicago Center for Criminal Justice Research, Policy and Practice and Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Bluhm Legal Clinic, Justice Audit Initiative, Criminal Justice Data Guide: State-level collection, reporting and availability of criminal justice data in Illinois, June 2018, https://www.luc.edu/media/lucedu/criminaljustice/pdfs/Illinois%20Criminal%20Justice%20Data%20Guide.pdf.
 Civic Federation, The Impact of Cook County Bond Court on Jail Population: A Call for Increased Public Data and Analysis, November 15, 2017, https://www.civicfed.org/sites/default/files/report_publicsafety2017.pdf.
 The New Jersey Courts reported that in 2017, the first year of implementation of New Jersey’s Criminal Justice Reform overhaul, the judiciary spent $33.8 million for pretrial services, $14.7 million for the eCourts system and $4.5 million for software for both pretrial services and eCourts, or a total of $53 million in the first year. In the second year of implementation, 2018, cumulative costs had increased to $61.8 million for pretrial services (another $28 million in the second year), $22.7 million for eCourts (an additional $8 million in the second year), and $7 million for software for pretrial services and eCourts (another $2.5 million in the second year), for total of $91.5 million over a two-year period. New Jersey Judiciary, Criminal Justice Reform Report to the Governor and the Legislature for Jan. 1- Dec. 31, 2017, https://njcourts.gov/courts/assets/criminal/2017cjrannual.pdf?c=TDH; and New Jersey Judiciary, Criminal Justice Reform Report to the Governor and the Legislature for Jan. 1- Dec. 31, 2018, https://njcourts.gov/courts/assets/criminal/2018cjrannual.pdf?c=ZRo.