One surprising finding coming out of our research on Illinois’ implementation of the Pretrial Fairness Act—which, among other big changes, will eliminate the use of cash bail when it goes into effect next year—is that the current cash bail system results in much less pretrial detention than is generally assumed. This is true even when the charges are serious. Statewide, on any given day, almost two-thirds of those with pending felony charges are not in jail custody or under any kind of supervision or monitoring.
This finding casts doubt on a central assumption behind much of the current criticism of the PFA—that the cash bail system protects the community by keeping dangerous people behind bars until their cases are resolved. What we’ve found is that, while it’s true that many people are jailed under the current cash bail system, most jail stays are brief. Most people pass through jails, being held for relatively short periods before bonding out—and that includes people charged with the kinds of serious offenses that are designated “detainable” under the PFA.
We don’t have statewide numbers for this. But data from a range of urban, suburban, and rural counties we’ve examined so far suggest that, under current practice, the majority of those charged with detainable offenses are released within a week.