Macoupin County state’s attorney sees mixed bag from end of cash bail

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(The Center Square) – The Illinois Pretrial Fairness Act that ended cash bail statewide is a mixed bag for prosecutors, particularly those in understaffed jurisdictions, according to one state’s attorney.

The elimination of cash bail, a key part of the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act, has reduced jail populations, but it has also significantly increased the workloads in many jurisdictions that do not have the staff and resources to cope with the changes.

“Right now we are seeing a reduction in our jail,” Macoupin County State’s Attorney Jordan Garrison said. “We are seeing more motions and more filings to deal with the bond court. And we are seeing more burdens in procedural stuff, motions, filings, things like that.”

It is way too early to tell if recidivism is on the rise or if crime is rising because fewer people are locked up, Garrison said.

“We don’t have the statistics,” he said.

Garrison is frustrated by the charged rhetoric the measure has set off.

“Prosecutors are not just trying to keep the poor in jail,” he said. “Reformists are not looking to let all the criminals out on the street. That rhetoric is not productive.”

What Macoupin County is experiencing under the new system is a burdensome increase in paperwork and court appearances, Garrison said. There is also the challenge of keeping track of the accused who are out on bail pretrial.

Macoupin County is Illinois’ 30th largest county by population and the 11th largest in land mass. Burglary on farms and outbuildings, where valuable equipment and copper are stored, is a common crime. Under the old system, detaining a suspect who was arrested for burglary was straightforward. With the elimination of cash bail, however, keeping accused burglars locked up until they go to trial is just about impossible, Garrison said.

“Under the old system, we could set a bond that would protect the public. We just can’t anymore. It is just not allowed,” Garrison said.

Garrison’s office has a small staff of four. Two other people have been appointed by the state to work with them to track and monitor people who are awaiting trial. That is not enough people, Garrison said. In a large rural area, where money and resources are low, the staff must concentrate on monitoring people who are charged with serious offenses. People charged with lower-level crimes like burglary and drug possession may slip through the cracks, he said.

Garrison is hopeful common sense discussions continue so that the law can be improved, he said. State’s attorneys are not opposed to well thought out bail reform and detention reform, he said.

“That needs to be done. You need to keep improving,” he said.

Benefits for prosecutors under the new system include making it easier to keep dangerous individuals locked up while they are awaiting trial, no matter how much money they have.

“Under the old system, if a wealthy individual was charged with a sex offense, they could bond out,” Garrison said. “Under the current law, it is a lot easier to hold those types of people in jail.”

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