Chicago Bail Reforms Followed by ‘Substantial Increase’ in Crime: Study

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Bail reform measures adopted in 2017 by the Chief Judge of the Cook County Courts in Chicago led to a “substantial increase” in crimes committed by individuals released pretrial, according to researchers from the University of Utah.

Contradicting an earlier review by the Cook County Courts, the authors found 1,212 defendants were charged with new crimes following their release,  including 70 new violent crime charges.

Welcoming the review, the Chicago Council of Lawyers distributed a statement, declaring that bail reform “has been a tremendous success.”

The measures, which increased the number of defendants released from 72 percent to 81 percent, were accompanied by “considerable stability” in the “community safety rate,” according to the review.

Similar bail reform measures are being contemplated or are underway across the country. The most recent, which went into effect this year in New York State, allowed defendants charged with most crimes to be released ahead of trial. Following a storm of opposition from law enforcement and victims’ groups, amendments to the law are now scheduled for debate in the New York assembly.

The authors of the report, Paul G. Cassell, Ronald N. Boyce Presidential Professor of Criminal Law and University Distinguished Professor of Law at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah; and Richard Fowles, a professor in the economics department at the University of Utah, maintained that they took no position on bail reform.

But they suggested that the original review had been influenced by prior expectations that the reforms would succeed.

“A concern about bias always lurks when an entity implementing a reform later studies whether that reform was successful,” they wrote.

They added:

One fundamental problem is that looking merely at a change in the total number of crimes after a reform and then attributing the change (or stability) to that single factor is not how well-regarded criminology studies are conducted. Instead, a researcher must consider potential confounding variables that might contribute to any trends.

Rather than examine before-and-after crime totals for their new study, Cassell and Fowles ran multiple regression equations controlling for a variety of factors, including not only the stop-and- frisk, but also the number of 911 calls to police, the unemployment rate, and homicides rates among other arrests and crime trends.

As background for what has been going on in Cook County, the authors cite a history of concern with the cash bail system. In October 2016, a class-action lawsuit was filed in Illinois state court, challenging Cook County’s bail system.

“While that case was ultimately dismissed without a decision on the merits, advocacy efforts connected with the lawsuit lead to new legislation in Illinois, the Bail Reform Act of 2017,” the authors write.

“The Act encouraged (but not require) expanded use of non-monetary alternatives to cash bail.”

This led to the Office of the Chief Judge of the Cook County Courts adopting the new bail reform measures in September 2017.

One of the conclusions that the internal review claimed was “that pretrial release of defendants had expanded significantly under the new procedures.”

Cassell and Fowles deny this, citing that the amount of defendants released went from 20,435 to 24,504 — only about 4,000 more defendants.

Another inconsistency Cassell and Fowles argue that the number of released defendants charged with committing new crimes increased by 45 percent. “And, more concerning, the number of pretrial releasees charged with committing new violent crimes increased by an estimated 33 percent.”

Other important findings include crimes committed— including violent crimes committed by pretrial releasees appear to have increased by an estimated 280 additional crimes against others after pretrial release was expanded.

Reporters at the Chicago Tribune wrote  that they “found that it was easier for defendants accused of aggravated domestic batteries to obtain pretrial release after bail reform,” according to the study.

The authors recommend a reanalysis of the data regarding bail reform and crimes committed by pretrial releasees, as well as conducting a cost-benefit analysis on the changing policies.

Overall, the authors conclude by saying that only if both benefits and costs are accurately measured, and crime data accurately reported, “can a sound decision be made about which way the scales tip and whether the ‘reform’ was truly an improvement,” for Cook County.

Given that more defendants were released after the reforms were put into place, “the question naturally arises as to whether the [reform] produced more defendants charged with new crimes because more defendants were being released, or because more dangerous defendants were released,” the study said.

“The data suggest that the answer is both.”

The authors said their findings called into question whether Cook County’s bail reform measures were cost-beneficial.

At the same time, they acknowledged that “expanded pretrial release can also produce benefits to society, notably reduction in the direct costs associated with incarcerating defendants (i.e., the costs of building and operating jails) and the indirect costs, such as depriving children of the financial and emotional support that their detained parents would otherwise be able to provide as well as difficult-to-quantify costs related to impacts on the presumption of innocence.

“Estimating the value of such benefits is difficult—but not impossible.”

Nevertheless, they argued, “because Cook County’s procedures are state-of-the-art and track those being implemented in many parts of the country, Cook County’s experience suggests that other jurisdictions may similarly be suffering increases in crime due to bail reform.”

The authors called on the Cook County Courts to redo and reassess their review.

The full study can be accessed here.

Additional Reading: Did NY Bail Reform Push Crime Up?

This summary was produced by TCR staff writer Andrea Cipriano

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