Pretrial Justice System in Illinois Bail Reform and its Implications

Illinois Bail Reform

Pretrial Justice System in Illinois Bail Reform and its Implications


The Pretrial Fairness Act (PFA) is a law in Illinois that went into effect on January 1, 2023. The PFA prohibits the use of money in pretrial justice system release decisions. The new reforms aim to address systemic racism and promote fairness by abolishing monetary bond and implementing a system that considers a defendant’s risk to the community or flight risk when determining pretrial detention. This article explores the details of the Pretrial Fairness Act (PFA) and its implications for the Illinois criminal justice system.

The Need for Reform

The push for bail reform in Illinois was driven by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus in January 2021, following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The goal was to address the racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Data analysis by Loyola University of Chicago Center for Criminal Justice revealed that in 2019, 50% of jail detainees in Illinois were Black, compared to only 15% of the state’s population. The reform aims to rectify these disparities and promote fairness in the pretrial justice system.

Abolishing Monetary Bond in Illinois Bail Reform

Under the new system, monetary bond will be abolished, and judges will have the authority to detain defendants based on their risk to the community or likelihood of fleeing prosecution. The emphasis will be on conducting more robust hearings to determine the necessity of pretrial incarceration. Defendants accused of nonviolent offenses and deemed not to be a flight risk or a threat to public safety will be spared from pretrial detention.

The implementation of the Pretrial Fairness Act faced legal challenges from state’s attorneys and sheriffs, resulting in delays. However, in July, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled the reform constitutional, and the law is set to be rolled out statewide on September 18, 2022. Despite the legal battles, State Sen. Robert Peters emphasized the importance of bail reform in ensuring public safety and promoting fairness in the criminal justice system.

‘Detainable’ versus ‘Handcuff-able’

One of the misconceptions surrounding the Pretrial Fairness Act is the confusion between being “detainable” and being “handcuff-able.” Critics of the reform feared that it would limit law enforcement’s ability to handcuff individuals accused of certain crimes. However, the law only directs, but does not require, officers to cite and release individuals accused of crimes below a Class A misdemeanor. The focus is on promoting fairness and not unnecessarily restricting individual freedom.

Changes at the Judicial Level

The Pretrial Fairness Act introduces changes at the judicial level after an arrest is made. The law specifies the crimes and circumstances under which a judge can order pretrial detention. To address concerns about public safety, lawmakers included any felony involving the threat or infliction of great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement as detainable offenses. Additionally, a judge may order detention if the defendant is considered a flight risk. These changes aim to strike a balance between public safety and individual rights.

Impact on Pretrial Justice System Detention Rates

The impact of the Pretrial Fairness Act on pretrial detention rates remains uncertain. An analysis by the Loyola University of Chicago Center for Criminal Justice found that if the PFA had been in place from 2020 to 2021, a judge would not have been able to detain the defendant in 56% of arrests. However, the study also revealed that from 2017 to 2019, only 19% of individuals with pending felony cases were in jail awaiting trial, while 17% were on electronic monitoring or pretrial supervision. This suggests that a significant proportion of individuals accused of felonies lived in the community without supervision. The PFA may lead to shorter stays in jail for those facing lower-level charges, while individuals accused of violent crimes may experience longer stays due to the absence of cash bail.

Focus on Domestic Violence Cases

The Pretrial Fairness Act also places a greater focus on domestic violence cases. Advocacy groups for domestic violence survivors worked with lawmakers to draft the law, ensuring that judges have greater authority to detain individuals accused of domestic violence. The law requires state’s attorneys to notify victims when a defendant has an initial detention hearing and also provides information about obtaining protective orders. Domestic violence charges and violations of protection orders accounted for a significant portion of cases where a person would be detainable under the PFA.

The Role of Electronic Monitoring in the Illinois Pretrial Justice System

With the abolition of monetary bail, the pretrial justice system in Illinois may rely more on electronic monitoring. Defendants ordered to wear ankle monitors will be tracked remotely by justice system professionals. The Pretrial Fairness Act allows individuals on electronic monitoring two days each week to move freely for daily tasks, providing them with more freedom than under previous law. However, conservatives and law enforcement groups have criticized this provision, arguing that it grants too much freedom. The Supreme Court’s Office of Statewide Pretrial Services (OSPS) will oversee electronic monitoring in 71 of Illinois’ 102 counties. The OSPS aims to support counties with the implementation of the PFA and fulfill the requirement for circuit courts to offer pretrial services.

The Process and Role of OSPS

Under the Pretrial Fairness Act, bail hearings will undergo significant changes. The new process prioritizes a defendant’s appearance in court through the “least restrictive” means. Defendants now have the right to legal representation at their first hearing, which typically takes place within 24 or 48 hours of the first court appearance. The OSPS plays a crucial role in this process, offering support services, conducting neutral reports on defendants’ history, and connecting individuals with resources to limit recidivism. The OSPS has experienced significant growth in its staff and is up and running in 70 counties, with plans to expand to Will County. It provides a much-needed centralized approach to pretrial services in Illinois.


The implementation of the Pretrial Fairness Act in Illinois marks a significant shift in the state’s pretrial justice system. By abolishing monetary bond and emphasizing individual risk and public safety, the reform aims to address racial disparities and promote fairness. While the impact of the reform remains uncertain, it represents a step towards a more equitable criminal justice system. The role of the OSPS and electronic monitoring will be crucial in supporting defendants and ensuring compliance with court orders. The journey towards a fair and just pretrial justice system in Illinois continues.