Preliminary data collection in Illinois is behind schedule

Artwork by Veronica Martinez

Artwork by Veronica Martinez

A state board tasked with collecting and analyzing data on pretrial practices in Illinois circuit courts said numerous hurdles would delay its work for months, which advocates say could embolden opponents of recent reforms to the criminal justice system.

The Safety, Responsibility, Fairness, and Fairness Today (SAFE-T) Act, signed into law by Illinois Governor JB Pritzker more than a year ago, will abolish the bond system Illinois currency early next year. It will also limit pretrial detention to those charged with the most serious charges who a judge finds pose either a flight risk or a direct threat to a person.

The legislation also created the Pretrial Practices Data Monitoring Board to collect and analyze pretrial data in circuit courts in each of the state’s 102 counties. The board was tasked with finding out how each county collects data on charges, demographics, release conditions, case outcomes and other metrics; define additional preliminary data points; suggest how this data can be systematically collected and reported statewide; and figure out how much it would cost. Lawmakers have called for this effort to be completed by July this year and for data collection to begin shortly thereafter.

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But in a July report, the council described a myriad of hurdles forcing it to postpone data collection for at least another year.

Cara LeFevour Smith, director of the Illinois Supreme Court’s Office of Pretrial Services, said the timeline for collecting data from 102 disparate county systems across the state proved too ambitious to achieve. on time. “Our goal is to make sure everything that comes out of the chart is accurate,” she said.

But advocacy groups working with survivors of gender-based violence have expressed concern that the delay – and the information vacuum it creates – will play into the hands of opponents of the legislation, who have decried it. as a threat to public safety.

Several Republican lawmakers, county prosecutors and law enforcement groups have warned that the SAFE-T law will harm survivors of gender-based violence, though advocates have said there is no data to back this up. Some have gone so far as to claim it has already increased crime in the state, even though some of its more controversial parts – particularly the end of cash bonds – won’t go into effect until January 1. .

“It has been incredibly difficult and frustrating to constantly see quotes and comments from opponents of the Pre-Trial Fairness Act saying it will harm victims, while some of the leading victim advocacy groups in the state support,” said Madeleine Behr, policy director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.

Behr and other gender-based violence-focused organizers said they worked closely with lawmakers to ensure the safety of survivors was considered during the development and passage of the SAFE-T law. .

As part of pre-trial reform, those arrested for domestic violence can be held for 24 to 48 hours, so judges can review evidence and hold a thorough hearing before deciding whether the accused should be jailed or released on conditions to protect the victim or his relatives. family safety. People charged with domestic violence will no longer be released directly by the police or after a speedy bail hearing – and release decisions must be based on the risk posed by an accused, not their ability to pay.

“Delaying that data just makes it harder to really understand the intricacies of those cases and to make sure that this system works as intended,” Behr said.

She expressed interest in court demographics that can help them better understand racial dynamics in gender-based violence cases.

“Do we most often see black defendants charged with sex crimes receiving petitions to be detained and not white defendants? Are we seeing white victims treated better by the system, ie faster notification, more opportunities for protective orders than, say, black victims? says Behr. “That’s the kind of data we need to make sure the system works as fairly and safely as possible.”

Data collection is not an easy task

The Pretrial Practices Data Oversight Board report said it needed more time to create a connected network of data collection across all 102 counties in Illinois.

Smith said an earlier task force convened by the Illinois Supreme Court identified 48 key pretrial data points that should be collected in every county. But only two-thirds of Illinois counties surveyed by the task force had a system in place to collect this data. Adding to the complication, these counties were not collecting data consistently, and some were still using paper records.

With such inconsistent data collection from county to county, the Pre-Trial Practices Data Oversight Council reported that it needed more time to create a uniform list of data fields before the trial. lawsuits that each county would collect and implement a standardized case management system under its contract with Tyler Technologies, a software company that helps the public sector build digital infrastructure.

Advocates for survivors of gender-based violence have also raised concerns that the council will not collect data on the outcomes of domestic and sexual violence cases, citing their omission from the 48 key pre-trial data points. .

Amanda Pyron, executive director of The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence, said data needs to be collected statewide to understand the effect of the Pretrial Fairness Act on survivors of domestic and sexual violence. .

“What we want to know is how can we make Illinois the safest state for survivors of gender-based violence? How can we prevent and end gender-based violence?” Pyron says. “In order to design the systems we need, we need to have enough data.”

Smith said the 48 data points were just a starting point, and told Injustice Watch that the SAFE-T Act’s effects on domestic and sexual violence cases would soon be included. The board plans to release the full list of data points to be collected by the end of September, she said.

“The Supreme Court and (the Illinois Courts Administrative Office) have been working for about two years to develop the Mercedes-Benz of comprehensive data points that we want to collect from each county court system, so that we can have a full transparency. and understanding,” Smith said.

Once those data points are identified, Smith said, Tyler Technologies will have a better idea of ​​the work needed to develop a statewide data collection system, and the board will be able to determine how much funding it needs. will need to implement it.

Sarah Staudt, policy director at the Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts, an organization that advocates for a fair and accessible legal system, said she and other organizers understand that creating a comprehensive data collection system is a colossal task. But she stressed the importance of having this data to combat misinformation.

“There is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the law works and how it protects survivors,” she said.

Staudt suggested the council publish all the data it collects on an ongoing basis.

“There needs to be a lot of public education about how the system actually works and how it differs from the current system,” she said.

Yet the data is only part of what organizers believe needs to be done to ensure survivors receive adequate help.

In a report released in August, Chicago Appleseed assessed the Cook County Domestic Violence Courthouse in Chicago and offered recommendations to improve its current practices. These included making domestic violence court hours more flexible and accessible to survivors, expanding legal and social services, improving court training and working more closely with advocacy groups. that could help survivors outside of court.

“The justice system won’t be the solution for everyone who has a domestic violence problem,” Staudt said. “We need to have services available in the community that reach survivors in different ways.

This article was produced in partnership with Report for America.

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