State Representative Steve Reick (R-Woodstock) and McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally are working together to address a threat to public health and safety that has resulted from the Bail Reform Act that took effect in 2018.
Illinois’ Bail Reform Act was part of a national movement to improve the pre-trial justice system in the country. Among other things, it requires judges to consider a detainee’s circumstances when setting conditions of release or imposing monetary bail. The result has been a larger number of individuals released with no monetary bail requirement. The new Act also provides detainees awaiting court dates with credit toward an early release for each day spent in jail.
Regionally, a large spike in “failure to appear in court” cases has occurred since the Act took effect, and in McHenry County, four deaths have been reported involving opioid or other controlled or illegal substance abusers who were released early through the provisions of the Act. It is these unintended consequences that have caused Reick and Kenneally to take action.
HB 221 was filed by Reick in Springfield earlier this month, and the bill would allow any county with a population of less than 3,000,000 to exempt themselves from the provisions of the Bail Reform Act if the county board adopts a resolution for that purpose.
“Like many laws that take effect in Springfield, it is only after they are implemented that we see some of the unintended consequences,” said Reick. “I have no doubt that the sponsor of the Bail Reform Act was well-intentioned, but we are finding that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to pre-trial justice reform. Provisions that are having success in Cook County are not working well here in McHenry County.”
Reick pointed to one nearby county that experienced an 87% jump in Category A cases of failure to appear in court. “These are people charged with serious crimes like aggravated assault, domestic battery and burglary- who are jumping bail,” Reick said. “It’s clear that we are no longer properly incentivizing people to show up to face charges brought against them. More defendants are deciding they would rather flee from justice than stand before a judge.”
Kenneally pointed to a reduced ability for his office to fight the opioid epidemic as another unintended consequence of the Bail Reform Act. “This new law is putting opioid abusers back onto the streets after they have detoxed in jail for several days but before they have been provided with access to proper services to help them address their issues with drug abuse,” said Kenneally. “When these opioid abusers are released early, they are at an extremely high risk of an overdose. We have seen recent cases here in McHenry County when opioid abusers were released from jail after only a few weeks due to the Bail Reform Act. While in jail their opioid tolerance was reduced and upon their release they went on to use opioids at levels that caused them to overdose and die.”
Kenneally added that local control is the key when determining how best to improve pre-trial justice. “Each county is unique, and while the Bail Reform Act may very well be a step in the right direction for Cook County, it is negatively impacting some other areas,” Kenneally said. “These are decisions that are best made locally, by people who have a deeper understanding of the people who live in their communities.”