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Jails across Illinois experience vacancies after elimination of cash bail


(The Center Square) – Jails across Illinois have been experiencing a decline in population since the passage of the Pretrial Fairness Act, which eliminated cash bail statewide as of September 2023.

McLean County Sheriff Matt Lane said his jail is about 38% occupied.

“Right now, we have a section closed and we are working on a plumbing issue and we have a few other things we are trying to get fixed,” Lane told The Center Square. The extra space due to vacancies is “giving me some leeway with the population as it stands right now, because if I was completely full it’d be hard to [make the repairs] we need to.”

Lane said he credits some of the vacancies to the Pretrial Fairness Act, which was a part of the SAFE-T Act. Lane said if he doesn’t need the extra space, he can close portions of the jail to save taxpayer money for things like staffing and utilities.

“Folks that get charged with crimes and get released right away and end up going to court … the low population will stay that way,” Lane said.

If those who are released right away don’t come back for court, “I can see that population rising,” said Lane.

The total number of beds available at the Cook County Jail is 9,774, where 1,906 beds are currently unoccupied.

“The population has dropped significantly since 2017 as a result of bail reforms instituted in Cook County,” stated Cook County Sheriff’s spokesman Matt Walberg. “It has further decreased by a less significant amount since the [Pretrial Fairness Act] took effect in September.”

Cook County provided a statement regarding what they are going to do about their extra space due to more vacancies and if they were planning to house the homeless or any of the more than 35,000 migrants that have been bused to Chicago.

“Over the past decade, we have worked collaboratively with our system stakeholders and partners to safely reduce overuse of the jail. To achieve sustainable, long-term reductions in crime and violence and reduce reliance on our criminal legal system, we have to invest in communities that have suffered historic disinvestment and over-incarceration and center community-based rather than carceral systems,” stated Nick Mathiowdis with the Office of the President Press Secretary. “Presently, utilizing resources from the American Rescue Plan Act, we’re conducting a comprehensive review of the County’s criminal justice budgets.”

According to Mathiowdis, the study’s aim is to identify and shift funding from duplicative or unnecessary areas, or from initiatives that do not match the core mission of a particular agency, into more effective and mission-aligned investments.

There are no plans at this time to repurpose the Cook County or McLean county jail facilities.

Lane said he would not be a proponent of housing homeless individuals or migrants in the jail.

“It’s not built for that, it’s not what it was intended for. It’s not an open campus. You can’t come and go as you please. I don’t think that’s a good idea. The county board might have some other ideas that we could discuss but I am not in favor of that,” said Lane.

Ben Hollis, chief deputy sheriff in Menard County, said some vacancies at their jail can be attributed to the Pretrial Fairness Act, but really the vacancies have remained the same since 2017 bail reforms.

“In our county our jail population didn’t change a ton because a lot of these non-violent offenders were already being released [due to the 2017 bail reforms],” said Hollis.

The Menard County jail currently has 10 of 26 beds filled. Prior to the Pretrial Fairness Act, they would hover at around 15.