No cash bail not alleviating problems of unfit defendants languishing pretrial

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(The Center Square) – While the end of money bond in Illinois aims to reduce the population in county jails by allowing low-level criminal defendants out while holding those charged with more serious crimes, other issues persist.

Sept. 18 was the first day of the end of money bond. On Friday, Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell said of 50 defendants in jail from before the end of cash bail who petitioned for pretrial release, seven had hearings.

“Thanks to [Sangamon County State’s Attorney] Dan Wright, and I know one of his assistants, Mary Beth Rogers, they’ve done a great job of arguing and actually we’re seven for seven for these people being detained,” Campbell told WMAY. “So they’ve had their petition turned down and were able to remain in custody.”

Among those seven cases included conduct endangering the life of a child, vehicular hijack and even aggravated battery of a correctional officer and escape.

ACLU of Illinois’ Benjamin Ruddell said the broad revamp of the criminal justice system is doing what it was intended to do by letting low-level offenders out of jail pending trial while keeping defendants charged with more serious crimes behind bars pending trial.

“It remains to be seen what the overall trends will be, but we believe that the law is appropriately crafted to affect an overall decrease in the jail population,” Ruddell told The Center Square.

There may be bumps down the road as the weeks and months progress, Ruddell said, but mostly, he’s heard things are going smoothly across the state.

Despite the end of cash bail, Campbell said another problem persists. For years, his office has filed lawsuits leading to the state being found in contempt of court for not taking criminal defendants found unfit to stand trial for evaluation and rehabilitation at state facilities for those with mental illness.

There was even a change in state law Campbell said provided cover to the Illinois Department of Human Services. Regardless, criminal defendants found unfit to stand trial are still languishing behind bars.

“There are about 200 statewide that are sitting in county jails that need to be in DHS facilities,” Campbell said he was told by state officials. “So, again, we are not taking care of these inmates and that’s our ultimate goal is to make sure that they get that need.”

Ruddell advocated for the end of money bond so people innocent until proven guilty don’t languish behind bars pending trial. Of inmates deemed unfit for trial, he said jail is no place for them.

“Those that are experiencing those issues should be in a more therapeutic environment, whether it’s to restore their competency to stand trial in a criminal case or for any other reason,” Ruddell said.

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