LUC CCJ
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Examining Bond Court Outcomes & Pretrial Release in Lake County, Illinois

Authors

Main Findings

Based on detailed analyses of 1,836 new cases that went through bond court in Lake County, Illinois, from March 1 to December 31, 2021:

  1. The average age of individuals processed through bond court was 34.4 years old, 83% were male, 38% were Black, 32% were white and 27% were Hispanic; two-thirds (66%) of the cases involved a felony-level charge, and 46% of the cases involved at least one charge of a violent crime (most often domestic battery);
  2. The proportion of cases that would potentially be detainable under the public safety standard of the Pretrial Fairness Act (PFA) that will go into effect January 1, 2023, was 51%, and an additional 26% would potentially be detainable under the PFA’s willful flight standard;
  3. Findings from the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) risk assessment tool administered for the defendants indicated that 37% were originally classified as Level 1 supervision (the highest level of likelihood of success in terms of remaining arrest free and appearing for court dates) and 11% were originally classified as Level 4 (the lowest level of likelihood of success); after “bump-ups,” which elevate the level based on being charged with specific violent offenses, 14% were classified as Level 1 supervision and 41% were classified as Level 4;
  4. 20% of the cases received an individual recognizance (IR) bond, while 15% were required to post a monetary bond that was $10,000 or less (i.e., they had to post 10% of $10,000 or less) to be released pre-trial, and 65% were required to post a monetary bond that was more than $10,000 (i.e., they had to post 10% of a bond in excess of $10,000). The case/defendant characteristics that had the strongest influence on whether or not someone had to post bond (and the bond amount) was the crime class (i.e., the misdemeanor/felony class), the final PSA supervision level, and if the most serious offense was a violent crime. The race of the defendant had no independent relationship with whether or not bond had to be posted or the amount of the bond;
  5. Almost two-thirds (63%) of all defendants were released from pretrial detention in 7 days or less, either because they received an IR bond, they posted the required monetary bond, or the case was disposed of within that time period (e.g., Nolle, charges dropped), and 37% spent more than 7 days in pretrial detention. The strongest factor influencing whether the defendant was released from pretrial detention within 7 days was the bond amount required to be posted, followed by the final PSA supervision level, and the defendant’s race. The higher the bond amount and the higher the final supervision level, the more likely the defendant was held in pretrial detention for more than 7 days. White and Hispanic defendants were less likely than Blacks to be held in pretrial detention for more than 7 days. Thus, while race was not related to the bond amounts imposed (point #4 above), race was a factor when it came to posting the required bond amounts. Not related to whether the defendant was released from pretrial detention in 7 days or less was the crime class (i.e., misdemeanor/felony class), if the case included a violent crime charge, or the case involved a charge that would be eligible for detention under the PSA’s public safety consideration.  

Introduction

In March 2021, Illinois’ 19th Judicial Circuit (Lake County) began using the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) risk assessment tool to inform bond court decisions. The purpose of the PSA is to provide judges with research-based information that they weigh, along with other information, to make more informed pretrial decisions. These decisions include whether a person can be successfully released pretrial and, if so, under what conditions. The Public Safety Assessment (PSA) is an actuarial assessment that predicts failure to appear (FTA) in court pretrial, new criminal arrest (NCA) while on pretrial release, and new violent criminal arrest (NVCA) while on pretrial release. The bond court decision is based on dozens of factors according to 725 ILCS 5/110-5, including the nature of the charges, use of violence or threatened use of violence, physical harm or threats of physical harm, etc. Increasingly, jurisdictions are including a risk assessment as one of the factors considered during bond court hearings. In Lake County, anyone arrested by a local law enforcement agency for a felony-level offense or a domestic violence offense must appear in bond court “without unnecessary delay” (725 ILCS 5/109-1), which has been interpreted by the courts as within 48 hours of arrest. At the bond court hearing, a judge makes a determination as to whether a defendant can be released on their own individual recognizance (i.e., release on an “IR” bond), released after they post a financial bond (i.e., released after posting money), or if the defendant should be held in pretrial detention with no bond. This decision by the judge is informed by information presented by the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Lake County Public Defender’s Office (or a private attorney if the defendant has one), and the results of the PSA, which is provided to the stakeholders by the Lake County Probation and Court Services Department. With the adoption of this new risk assessment tool in bond court, Lake County’s stakeholders sought to better understand the characteristics of those processed through bond court, the bond court outcomes, and to determine the degree to which the risk assessment influences bond court outcomes. In addition, stakeholders also wanted to assess the degree to which the risk assessment results correlate with pretrial release outcomes, including new criminal activity (i.e., charges being filed) and/or failure to appear (FTA). This research brief is intended to provide an overview of the characteristics of individuals going through bond court since March 2021, the degree to which the results of the PSA correspond to bond court decisions (i.e., IR, a requirement that a cash bond be posted to secure pretrial release, or individuals being held on no bond), and preliminary analyses examining the correlation between pretrial release and PSA scores. A subsequent bulletin will be examining the prevalence of new criminal activity (i.e., charges being filed) and/or failure to appear (FTA), and the degree to which the PSA scores correlate with these pretrial release outcomes. Between March and December 2021, there were a total of 1,836 new arrests/cases that went through bond court involving 1,724 unique defendants. Excluded from the analyses are cases that went through bond court as a result of a defendant being brought back to court following arrest on a failure to appear (FTA) warrant. Throughout the data presented in this research brief the unit of analysis is the criminal case—thus, if an individual defendant went through bond court twice during the study period for two different cases, this defendant would appear twice in the data.

Characteristics of those Going Through Bond Court

Of all the new criminal cases going through bond court during the study period, 83% were male and 17% were female. In terms of the defendant’s race, 38% were Black, 32% were white, 27% were Hispanic, and 3% of the cases involved other racial groups. In terms of age, 15% of the cases processed through bond court involved defendants who were under 23 years old and 85% involved those 23 and older. The average age of defendants processed through bond court in Lake County during the study period was 34.4 years old. Although the racial, gender and age composition of those going through bond court in Lake County is substantively different from the general population, it is fairly consistent with the characteristics of those arrested in Lake County.

Of those cases heard in bond court, over half (54%) involved non-violent offenses as the most serious charge and most (66%) were felony-level offenses. The specific crime that accounted for the single largest category of offenses—accounting for 27% of all cases heard in bond court—were cases with charges of domestic violence/violating an order of protection.



Also examined were the proportion of cases going through bond court that will be eligible for initial detention under the Pretrial Fairness Act (PFA), which will become effective on January 1, 2023. Under the PFA there are two groups of individuals who can be considered for initial detention: 1) those eligible based on a “public safety” standard, and 2) those eligible based on a “willful flight” standard. The public safety standard allows for the pretrial detention of individuals charged with specific, detainable offenses who are also found to pose “a specific, real and present threat to a person” (i.e., a risk to public safety). The specific detainable offenses under this standard can be categorized broadly into three groups: 1) non-probationable forcible felonies (e.g., first degree murder, armed robbery, home invasion, aggravated vehicular hijacking, aggravated battery with great bodily harm) and sex offenses, 2) weapon offenses (e.g., illegal firearm possession, unlawful discharge of a firearm, unlawful sale/delivery of a firearm), and 3) domestic violence offenses and violations of orders of protection (VOOP). The willful flight standard allows for the pretrial detention of individuals shown to be a risk for willful flight from prosecution who are charged with either 1) a detainable offense under the public safety standard or 2) any Class 3 Felony or more serious felony offense. The proportion of all cases going through bond court during the study period that were potentially detainable under the public safety standard was 51%, and an additional 26% would be potentially detainable under the willful flight standard.

In addition to these demographic and current charge characteristics, the results of the PSA also provide some insight into the characteristics of defendants who went through bond court. Based on a defendant’s prior criminal history (i.e., prior convictions, and prior convictions specifically for a violent crime), prior failures to appear for criminal court hearings, the defendant’s age, and if the defendant was currently on probation or pretrial release when the new case was filed, they receive a score that indicates the likelihood of remaining arrest free (NCA), likelihood to appear (FTA), or likelihood to remain arrest-free for a violent offense (NVCA) (See Appendix 1 for the scoring of these elements of the PSA). The scores for each of these risk domains can range from 1 to 6, and among those going through bond court during the study period, the averages were 3.2 for NCA, 2.7 for FTA, and 19% had a violence “flag.”

These scores indicate which defendants appearing in bond court have elevated risks for these outcomes, and are used to classify defendants into one of four supervision levels (See Appendix 2 for a summary of how PSA scores correspond to supervision levels). Table 1 summarizes the conditions imposed on defendants if they are released pretrial (either through a recognizance bond or if they post the required monetary bond, with those defendants classified as Level 1 having the fewest requirements to Level 4 have the most requirements. The level is initially determined using information from the PSA, but there are instances where the level is automatically “bumped-up” or “elevated” either one level or to a Level 4, due to the nature of the current charge or prior FTAs for specific previous offenses.

Although judges can use their discretion to bump up a defendant’s level, almost all bump ups in level were the result of the automatic bump ups. Summarized in Figure 1 are the percent of cases in the study period that fell into the four levels based on both the initial classification and then the final classification as a result of the bump ups.



Of all the defendants going through bond court during the study period, 37% were classified as Level 1 and 11% were classified as Level 4 (Figure 1) prior to bump ups and judicial discretion. Since the Levels are also used to determine the nature of pre-release supervision, if that is a condition of pre-trial release, the process used in Lake County allows for the level to be increased (i.e., “bumped-up”) due to the nature of the current charge or judicial discretion. As seen, the initial level classification placed 37% of cases in Level 1 (the level with the fewest pretrial release requirements) and 11% in Level 4 (the level with the most requirements). After the bump-ups, which again were almost exclusively due to the nature of the current charge or prior FTAs for specific types of cases, only 14% of cases were classified as Level 1 and 41% of cases were classified as Level 4.



Bond Court Outcomes

In addition to describing the characteristics of cases going through bond court in Lake County, this research brief is also intended to describe the degree to which the PSA (and the subsequent supervision levels that are derived in large part from the PSA) corresponds to bond court outcomes. Of all the cases that went through bond court during the study period, 20% received an individual recognizance (IR) bond, while 15% were required to post a monetary bond that was $10,000 or less (i.e., they had to post 10% of $10,000 or less) in order to be released pre-trial, and 65% were required to post a monetary bond that was more than $10,000 (i.e., they had to post 10% of a bond in excess of $10,000). Very few cases—less than 0.1%--were held without bail (i.e., could not be released pretrial under any condition). Of those required to post a monetary bond, the median bond amount was $35,000 (i.e., 50% had to post $3,500 or less, and 50% had to post more than $3,500). Because there were some bond amounts in excess of $1,000,000 the average bond amount was much higher—at $132,000 among those ordered to post bond.



Two sets of analyses were performed to determine the influence defendant and case characteristics had on: 1) whether or not an individual had to post bond (i.e., ROR=0, bond=1), and 2) the bond amounts imposed.

Included in the analyses were the defendant’s age, race, sex, and supervision level,
as well as the offense class of the most serious charge (i.e., the felony or misdemeanor crime class) and whether the most serious offense was a violent crime. Using statistical methods that allow for the isolation on the independent effects of each of these defendant and case characteristics had on whether or not the defendant was required to post bond and the bond amount, the most salient/strongest influence came from the crime class, the final supervision level, if the most serious offense was a violent crime, the sex of the defendant and the age of the defendant in both sets of analyses (Table 2). Specifically, the more serious the crime class, the higher the level of supervision, if it was a violent offense, males, and younger defendants were more likely to be required to post bond (or are less likely to be released on an IR bond) and also had higher bond amounts. The race of the defendant had no independent relationship with whether or not bond had to be posted or the amount of the bond. Thus, there does appear to be a correlation between the bond court outcome and the supervision level, which is determined, in large part, from the scores and information included in the PSA. However, it is important to note that, relative to other characteristics of the defendant or case, the felony class tended to have the most influence on the bond court outcome. The final set of analyses examined how quickly those who went through bond court were released from pretrial detention, and what defendant and case characteristics were related to that outcome. Overall, of those cases that went through bond court during the study period, 63% were released from pretrial detention in 7 days or less, either because they received an IR bond, they posted bond, or the case was disposed of within that time period (e.g., Nolle), and 37% spent more than 7 days in pretrial detention. Statistical methods were again used to isolate the independent effects of each of the same defendant and case characteristics used in the previous analyses, plus the bond amount, on whether or not the defendant was in pretrial detention for more than 7 days. The most salient/strongest influence came from the bond amount required to be posted, followed by the final supervision level, and the defendant’s race (Table 2). The higher the bond amount and the higher the final supervision level, the more likely the defendant was held in pretrial detention for more than 7 days. In terms of race, white and Hispanic defendants were less likely than Blacks to be held in pretrial detention for more than 7 days. Thus, while race was not related to the bond amounts (previous analyses above), race was a factor when it came to posting the required bond amounts. Also, the defendant’s sex and age, the crime class, and whether the offense was violent, were not related to whether or not they were released pretrial within 7 days. Thus, the likelihood that someone was held pretrial for more than 7 days had little to do with the nature of the current charge—the offense class and violent nature of the offense—but was primarily based on the degree to which the required bond could be posted. Among those charged with a violent crime, which primarily involved domestic violence offenses, 37% spent more than 7 days in pretrial detention (or, conversely, 63% spent 7 days or less in pretrial detention), statistically similar to those who were not charged with a violent crime. A similar pattern was seen when the current charges were grouped into those that are eligible for detention under the PFA versus those that are not: the percent that spent 7 days or less in pretrial detention was statistically similar for the two groups after other defendant and case characteristics were taken into account.



Bump-Up Analysis

Nearly 46% of the individuals that went through bond court for a first appearance received a bump-up on the PSA level. A final set of analyses were performed to determine what case and defendant characteristics increase the likelihood of a bump-ups. Characteristics similar to those included in the previous analyses of bond court outcomes were included in these analyses (i.e., the defendant’s age, race, sex, the offense class of the most serious charge, if the case involved a charge for a violent crime, and the original PSA level). Using statistical methods that allow for the isolation on the independent effects of each of these defendant and case characteristics had on whether or not the defendant received a bump-up, the strongest influence came from whether the case included a charge for a violent crime. In fact, 83% of the cases that received a bump-up included a violent crime charge. In addition to this case characteristics, the defendant’s race, age and original PSA level also had a small influence on whether the case resulted in a bump-up. Specifically, Hispanics were slightly more likely to receive a bump-up than Blacks, and those in the oldest age group (over 35) relative to the youngest (under 25) were also slightly more likely to receive a bump-up. Finally, the higher the original PSA level, the less likely the defendant was to receive a bump up. This latter pattern is to be expected, since those already classified at Level 4 cannot be moved up any higher. The crime class and sex of the defendant had no independent relationship with whether or not the case involved a bump-up.

Conclusions

The analyses presented in this research brief provides important insight into the bond court and pretrial practices in Lake County, Illinois. This is the first effort to systematically examine the outcomes of bond court in Lake County, revealing information about the nature of the cases heard, the defendants who go through bond court, and the bond court outcomes. This research brief also provides stakeholders in Lake County with information regarding the risk-levels of those processed through bond court based on the findings from the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) risk assessment tool that was implemented in March 2011, which is considered among the numerous factors that inform bond court decisions. Future research briefs will examine other bond court outcomes, include rates of failure to appear for court hearings and rates of new criminal charges being filed among those released pretrial.

Appendix