Ammons promoting bail-reform effort

Ammons promoting bail-reform effort

CHAMPAIGN — Illinois taxpayers shouldn't have to cover the cost of jailing nonviolent defendants awaiting trial.

That's the message state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, and other officials hope to spread today as they announce plans to bring a bail-reform movement to Illinois.

Illinois will be the second state in the country to join an initiative designed to prevent nonviolent arrestees from being detained just because the individual can't afford bail.

In partnership with the Pretrial Justice Institute, the 3DayCount movement seeks to help judges make more objective and informed decisions about holding an offender until trial, all based on a risk assessment.

According to Ammons, high bonds are set to ensure an offender shows up to court and prevent new violent criminal activity from occurring. Every year, Americans spend $14 billion to jail people who haven't been convicted of a crime, she said.

The goal of this movement: save taxpayers money by conducting a scientifically based risk assessments when someone is arrested to determine whether an individual is a low-risk offender and should qualify for release.

During her time on the Champaign County Board, Ammons was a part of the social justice committee and worked on ways to reduce the jail population.

"We always saw we had a high number of people who were being held in the county jail because they can't make the bail assigned to them. That inability to make bail, in many cases, causes the person who is being held to lose their job, housing or even custody of their children. ... That generally happens after they've been held more than three days," she said. "Detaining people who haven't been found guilty of the charges against them costs us an enormous amount of money. After three days of being held ... that's when they become costly to society."

On Wednesday, Ammons, Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita Garman, Winnebago County Chief Judge Joseph McGraw, Director of the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts Mike Tardy and Pretrial Justice Institute CEO Cherise Fanno Burdeen will announce their partnership, along with a goal of implementing new standards for pretrial by the year 2020.

The hope is to help the court system make more informed decisions about setting bail, based on some type of risk assessment done at the time of arrest. Currently, Cook, Kane and McLean counties are piloting this approach to determining bond and detainment, through a tool created by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, called Public Safety Assessment. It looks at an offender's previous criminal history and other factors to determine how likely the person is to fail to appear in court or commit a new or more violent crime.

"We want to work with all three branches of government and look at some new standards. We want an Illinois standard, not a county-by-county standard," Ammons said.

And as the second state to join the institute's 3DayCount movement, Illinois is an ideal place to try this approach due to its history of pretrial reform, according to Fanno Burdeen. "It is one of four states without bail bondsmen, combined with no lobbying interests in Springfield opposing bail reform. You also have Cook County as a participant in this pilot program and a chief justice in the state that has made this a major part of her work," she said.

While ultimately decisions about bonds and detaining offenders will remain in the hands of the court, Ammons and Fanno Burdeen think giving the court better tools to make those decisions will lessen the disparate impact incarceration can have on minorities and those without the means to pay bond.

"Research shows the impact being held, but not convicted, can have. It increases the likelihood of a person being found or pleading guilty. Statistical trends show they tend to get a longer sentences," Ammons said. "When a person is arrested and can't make bail, they go to court shackled in handcuffs and a jumpsuit. That plays on the psychology of the people in the court and the judge, as opposed to someone who can make bond and comes to court dressed appropriately. The perception is different. ... It has its own social implications."

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guyincognito wrote on October 26, 2016 at 7:10 am

Excellent idea! Keep up the good work Carol!

Joe American wrote on October 26, 2016 at 8:10 am

We've got serious issues in this state, and our local elected official is trying to figure out ways to let criminals out on the street?

"Every year, Americans spend $14 billion to jail people who haven't been convicted of a crime, she said."

No, they haven't been convicted yet, but they've been arrested for a crime that in all but a few cases, they've committed.  Everyone knows that just because you were found not guilty doesn't mean that you haven't committed the crime.  All it means is that the state dropped the ball and failed to convince a jury that they were guilty.  And if you think that these criminals who are out on the street while awaiting trial are not going to continue to commit crimes in the mean time, you're clearly a little short on the gray matter.

"'Research shows the impact being held, but not convicted, can have. It increases the likelihood of a person being found or pleading guilty. Statistical trends show they tend to get a longer sentences,' Ammons said."

And she says that like it's a bad thing.  If that's the case, then the obverse is true then as well - that it increases the likelihood that people who are released would naturally be found or plead not guilty.  That's what we want?  Criminals more likely being found not guilty?

I don't think so.

Local Yocal wrote on October 26, 2016 at 10:10 am
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Great legislation. Carol Ammons continues to represent the poor and disenfranchised very well. Thank you Representative Ammons for your service.

Son of a Barrelmaker wrote on October 26, 2016 at 2:10 pm

I wish people would quit referring to the County Board's Justice and Social Services Committee as the County's Social Justice Committee. 

There is a BIG difference.  The Committee is not tasked with Social Justice. 

KlaatuSansGort wrote on October 26, 2016 at 6:10 pm

This article is interesting on many fronts, as are the comments posted so far.

Minimizing or avoiding pretrial detention of any defendant is a worthy goal, although there will always be some defendants, charged with serious and violent crimes, whose detention pending a trial is necessary by almost any measure.

Yet it cannot be denied that far too many defendants remain in pretrial custody due only to their inability to post “cash bail.”

The proposed legislative action and initiative being fostered by Representative Ammons and Justice Garman is therefore certainly laudable. However, one might sincerely ask whether this initiative – much less a press conference – was needed in the first place.

Illinois statutory law relating to bond in criminal cases has long provided as follows:

“Release on own recognizance. When from all the circumstances the court is of the opinion that the defendant will appear as required either before or after conviction and the defendant will not pose a danger to any person or the community and that the defendant will comply with all conditions of bond . . . , the defendant may be released on his or her own recognizance. “

The quoted provision is from section 110-2 of the Illinois Code of Criminal Procedure. Section 110-2 goes on to provide as follows:

“This Section shall be liberally construed to effectuate the purpose of relying upon contempt of court proceedings or criminal sanctions instead of financial loss to assure the appearance of the defendant . . . . Monetary bail should be set only when it is determined that no other conditions of release will reasonably assure the defendant's appearance in court . . . .”

There are, surely, certain legal niceties to the statute that might bore even the most thoughtful lawyers. Those niceties are of no consequence here.

Instead, one might only ask here why officials from separate branches of Illinois government are apparently trying to reinvent a statutory wheel that has been literally and figuratively “on the books” for decades and apparently never even read, much less reified.

In all events why, at last, a “press conference?”

The answer to that question is simple.

Politicians, of whatever stripe or however clad, are simply attracted to such things.

Yet even given that, it might be at the very least a  bit refreshing if those in attendance were simply to announce a novel intention to encourage resolute application of the text and intendment of a well stated and easily applied statutory standard of which they have apparently long been unaware.

Creating solutions to problems that do not exist is perhaps an inherent folly of government.

Governmental ignorance or mere unawareness of solutions to real problems, particularly solutions long and easily first at hand, is quite another matter.

Local Yocal wrote on October 27, 2016 at 5:10 am
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The reason Champaign County judges and prosecutors do not use the available statutes to release people on their own recognizance is because the game is to extract as much money from the defendants to support the system. Small crimes = hefty court costs and fines. The jail is being used as a leveraging tool to insure the criminal justice system gets paid. 

The legislation is needed to force the judiciary to do what they have not been willing to do with the current statutes.

Illinimac wrote on October 27, 2016 at 11:10 am

Judges could do this right now.  As Alan Dershowitz said, one of the rules of criminal justice is the judge won't take the heat.  The interesting thing about the "criminals back on the street" argument is that the State opposes pretrial release, but if they plead guilty, all of a sudden the few weeks they've served is enough jail.  

Illinimac wrote on October 27, 2016 at 11:10 am

Judges could do this right now.  As Alan Dershowitz said, one of the rules of criminal justice is the judge won't take the heat.  The interesting thing about the "criminals back on the street" argument is that the State opposes pretrial release, but if they plead guilty, all of a sudden the few weeks they've served is enough jail.  

Trench5800 wrote on October 27, 2016 at 3:10 pm

Perhaps I'm in the minority, but its my opinion that most people who are in the county jail, should be. We're not talking about people who got caught urinating on a sidewalk or didn't pay their traffic tickets. These are people who have shot guns without regard for public safety, violated someone's personal space by committing a residential burglary, made the choice to not go to court time and time again, etc. Incarceration serves as a public safety mechanism. I'd be very angry if my family was victim to something perpetrated by someone who shouldn't have been on the streets in the first place. And it happens in this county every day.

With that said, how about a little more integrity in sentencing? Why is it automatic that someone gets paroled in five years that got sentenced to ten? I'd be curious to know how many people in county incarceration are also on parole from the state. I understand its a mechanism to ease the strain on the corrections system, but this broken system puts the public at risk.  


Sid Saltfork wrote on October 28, 2016 at 12:10 pm

No bail in exchange for a one way bus ticket to Texas. 

cwdog57 wrote on October 29, 2016 at 10:10 am

boy, i tell ya, you people take the cake. i thought one of this countries constitional rights was "innocent till found guilty". my mistake. do you really believe that "most" people arrested have guns or have burglurized and robbed innocent folks? really.

i was once arrested in 1994 for owing a $50 fine for my dog running at large. a warrent was issued and i was arrested by the urbana police dept. who were just following protocal. they were so pissed at having to go through this process for this petty crime. at the time i had an under 6 mos. child who was removed from my home by another officer, in a separate squad car,taken to the urbana police dept. until a relative or dcfs could take custody of her.

after being processed in the county jail. i was ask where my child was as"my mother" was there to pick her up. my mother was in the nursing home at the time so i knew it wasn't her. i also had no idea of the where abouts of my daughter. she was later located and returned to a family friend. i wondered if they were kidnapping her or maybe she would just be l"lost in the system". my mind was working overtime obviously. this ordeal was terrifying and ridiculous. yet you think i "deserved" to be there.

can you imagine the enormity of this situation. the cost alone, the paperwork, the time spent by officers removed from the field etc,etc,ect.

come on people, that's just one incident. one story. what a waste of time. it didn't happen to you, it happened to me. this is why there needs to be more accountablitiy and why watchdog groups are so important to regulate the police and courts for abuses and discrimination. too bad it has to be this way beit people like you. get some common sense here. this kind of stuff happens everyday to someone, maybe to you or someone you love. until it does you'll still be making these ridiculous accusations the "these people belong there" and "one way ticket to texas". really maybe they should ship you to the moon.

Sid Saltfork wrote on October 29, 2016 at 4:10 pm

Why didn't you pay the $50 fine instead of waiting for a warrant to be issued?  How much did you have to post for bail?  Did you have to post bail?  What police, and court abuses did you have happen to you?

You left alot out of your personal story.  Please answer the questions.