A December circuit court ruling prevented Illinois from becoming the first state to eliminate the cash bail system at the start of 2023. The legislature passed the Pretrial Fairness Act to address inequities in the criminal justice system that keep low-income people in jail while wealthier individuals go free.
While the Supreme Court reviews the Act, 102 counties in Illinois continue to utilize cash bail. Can a new science-based tool make the system fairer?
Public Safety Assessment tool
The Public Safety Assessment tool is a science-based algorithm that helps judges make pretrial decisions. Over 50 jurisdictions in the United States currently use this free tool. The tool’s developers analyzed 750,000 historical criminal cases to identify nine factors determining defendants’ likelihood of committing a new crime or failing to show up for their trials if the judge releases them. Based on these factors, the tool assigns defendants a score between one and six.
Uses for the tool
Advocates for the tool say it can help judges make better decisions about the risk involved with releasing people facing criminal charges so that low-risk individuals do not remain in jail solely because they cannot afford cash bail. However, skeptics question the accuracy of the tool or the ability of the tool to reshape how courts operate. Some critics believe that the tool does not account for racial biases in the criminal justice system that could result in non-white defendants facing pretrial jail time at higher rates.
The fate of the cash bail system remains undecided in Illinois. Whether tools such as the PSA tool can make the system fairer also remains a subject of debate.