Defendant Management System Transforming Pretrial Incarceration

Defendant Management System pretrial fairness act illinois 2023

Defendant Management System Transforming Pretrial Incarceration



Beginning Today, September 18th, 2023 The Pretrial Fairness Act (PFA) went into effect in Illinois.  The state courts in Illinois will undergo a significant transformation in their approach to pretrial incarceration. The state will abolish monetary bail and implement a new defendant management system that aims to prioritize public safety and fairness while reducing unnecessary pretrial detention. The reform, known as the Pretrial Fairness Act (PFA), was driven by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus as part of broader criminal justice reform efforts. It seeks to address systemic racism in the criminal justice system and ensure equal treatment for all individuals, regardless of their background or financial position.

What is the Pretrial Fairness Act?

The Pretrial Fairness Act, also known as the PFA, is a significant piece of legislation in Illinois aimed at reforming the state’s pretrial justice system. This act was passed as part of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ criminal justice reform bill in January 2021 and took full effect on September 18, 2023. The primary objective of the Pretrial Fairness Act is to restore the presumption of innocence by eliminating the use of money bonds in pretrial release decisions. Under this act, individuals can only be detained pretrial if a judge determines they pose a threat to someone else or a high risk of fleeing, not because they cannot afford to pay bail.

The Pretrial Fairness Act has garnered attention and support from advocates who argue that the cash bail system disproportionately punishes individuals solely due to their financial status. By abolishing cash bail, the act seeks to promote fairness and transparency in the pretrial release and detention processes.

A Shift from Monetary Bond to Risk Assessment

Under the new defendant management system, monetary bond will be abolished, and judges will have the authority to detain defendants accused of violent crimes based on their level of risk to the community or flight from prosecution. This shift aims to eliminate the practice of jailing individuals solely because they cannot afford to post bail while awaiting trial. Instead, the focus will be on conducting robust hearings to determine the risk posed by the accused and to avoid unnecessary pretrial incarceration for nonviolent offenders who are not deemed a flight risk or a threat to public safety.

The implementation of the Pretrial Fairness Act has faced significant challenges, including legal battles and constitutional considerations. Last year, Republicans used the Act to attack Democrats during a highly contentious election cycle, accusing them of being “soft on crime.” These challenges led to delays in implementing the law, with the Illinois Supreme Court eventually ruling in favor of its constitutionality in a partisan 5-2 decision in July. As a result, the law’s statewide rollout was set for September 18, more than nine months after the intended start date of January 1.

Addressing Systemic Racism and Disparities in Pretrial Detention

The drive for reform in Illinois was fueled by concerns about systemic racism and disparities in pretrial detention. An analysis of U.S. Department of Justice data by researchers at the Loyola University of Chicago Center for Criminal Justice revealed significant racial disparities in pretrial detention. In 2019, half of jail detainees in Illinois were Black, compared to only 15 percent of the state’s population. In contrast, white detainees accounted for 33 percent, while comprising 76 percent of the population. The PFA aims to address these disparities and ensure a more equitable and just pretrial system.

Understanding the Pretrial Fairness Act

The Pretrial Fairness Act takes a multi-pronged approach to limit pretrial detention and improve the fairness of the system. It starts with law enforcement decisions in the field, allowing officers to exercise discretion in arresting individuals they believe to be a threat to public safety or who are likely to continue violating the law. The Act also introduces changes at the judicial level, specifying the crimes and circumstances under which a judge can order pretrial detention. The Act’s aim is to strike a balance between protecting public safety and ensuring the least restrictive means of securing an individual’s appearance in court.

Impact on Pretrial Detention and Supervision

An analysis conducted by the Loyola University of Chicago Center for Criminal Justice on arrest data from 2020 and 2021 provided insights into the potential impact of the Pretrial Fairness Act. The study concluded that 56 percent of arrests made during that period would not have resulted in detention if the Act had been in place. However, the research also found that only 19 percent of individuals with pending felony cases were in jail awaiting trial, with another 17 percent on electronic monitoring or pretrial supervision. This suggests that the Act’s implementation may lead to shorter stays for individuals facing lower-level charges but could result in longer stays for those accused of violent crimes.

Balancing Public Safety and Defendant Rights

The Pretrial Fairness Act aims to strike a delicate balance between public safety and the rights of defendants. It grants judges the authority to order pretrial detention for individuals accused of violent crimes or who are deemed a flight risk. However, the Act also ensures that defendants accused of nonviolent offenses are not subjected to unnecessary pretrial incarceration if they are not considered a threat to public safety or likely to flee. The Act’s focus on risk assessment and individualized determinations aims to promote fairness and reduce the reliance on monetary bail as a determinant of pretrial detention.

Enhanced Pretrial Process and Defendant Representation

One of the key provisions of the Pretrial Fairness Act is the establishment of a more robust pretrial process. Defendants now have the right to legal representation at their first hearing, ensuring that their rights are protected from the outset. The Act encourages the provision of public defenders or private attorneys for defendants, emphasizing the importance of effective counsel. The new process also places greater emphasis on counties to provide pretrial services aimed at assuring a defendant’s appearance in court while also connecting them with support services focused on reducing recidivism.

Promoting Victim Safety and Support

The Pretrial Fairness Act also includes provisions to improve victim safety and support. State’s attorneys are now required to notify victims when a defendant has an initial detention hearing. Victims will also be informed about their ability to obtain protective orders at the time of the initial and subsequent hearings. These measures aim to empower victims and ensure their safety throughout the pretrial process. The Act recognizes the seriousness of domestic violence charges and violations of protection orders, requiring a detention hearing when a defendant has violated an order of protection.

The Role of Electronic Monitoring in the Defendant Management System

With the end of cash bail, many counties in Illinois may rely more heavily on electronic monitoring as a means of ensuring a defendant’s appearance in court. Electronic monitoring involves the use of GPS tracking and ankle bracelets to monitor defendants remotely. The Pretrial Fairness Act allows individuals on electronic monitoring to have two days each week to move freely and accomplish daily tasks. This provision has faced criticism from conservatives and law enforcement groups who argue that it grants too much freedom. However, electronic monitoring will be overseen by the Supreme Court’s Office of Statewide Pretrial Services in 71 of Illinois’ 102 counties, ensuring centralized and round-the-clock monitoring.

The Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice’s Concerns

While the use of electronic monitoring may increase under the defendant management system, the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice has expressed concerns about its expanded use. The organization believes that requiring individuals to wear ankle monitors in lieu of paying bail is an injustice that goes against the spirit of the law. They argue that electronic monitoring should not be seen as a substitute for bond and should only be used when necessary to ensure public safety. The organization advocates for a more comprehensive approach to pretrial justice that addresses the underlying issues contributing to pretrial detention and recidivism.

The Role of the Office of Statewide Pretrial Services

The Office of Statewide Pretrial Services (OSPS) plays a vital role in the implementation of the defendant management system in Illinois. The OSPS is a newly formed state agency designed to assist counties with the implementation of the Pretrial Fairness Act and fulfill a 1987 law that required all circuit courts to offer pretrial services. The OSPS oversees electronic monitoring in 71 counties and provides support services to defendants to ensure their compliance with court orders and reduce recidivism. The agency’s neutral reports about defendants’ history and support services help inform judges, public defenders, and state attorneys in making informed decisions during the pretrial process.

The Challenges and Future of the Defendant Management System

The implementation of the defendant management system in Illinois poses several challenges and uncertainties. Public defenders, such as Nathan Rowland, anticipate a significant increase in their workload and have questions about how the system will work in practice. However, Rowland believes that the system will address the longstanding issue of substituting high-dollar bonds for a more individualized assessment of dangerousness. The OSPS also faces the challenge of ensuring that support services effectively reduce recidivism and promote successful outcomes for defendants. While the system aims to identify individuals who should be detained pretrial, there may still be instances where individuals continue to engage in criminal activity.


The implementation of the defendant management system in Illinois marks a significant shift in the state’s approach to pretrial incarceration. By abolishing monetary bail and prioritizing risk assessment, the Pretrial Fairness Act aims to promote fairness, address systemic racism, and ensure public safety. The new system emphasizes individualized determinations, robust pretrial hearings, and support services to reduce recidivism. While challenges and uncertainties remain, the defendant management system represents a step towards a more equitable and just criminal justice system in Illinois.