Chicago Officials Fudge Numbers on Bail Reform Outcomes

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Chicago Theater, skyscrapers and traffic in downtown Chicago, Illinois on cloudy day

Chicago has a well-earned reputation for being the murder capital of the US. Last year alone some 800 individuals were murdered in Chicago, nearly double the number murdered in New York City, a city more than three times as large. Those 800 murders last year represent a significant uptick from previous years and just happen to coincide with Illinois eliminating cash bail and essentially outlawing the bail bond agent at the start of 2021.

The Death of Bail Bonding and The Rise Of Death In Chicago

The Chicago political establishment, who threw their weight wholeheartedly behind bail reform, is less than thrilled with what’s transpired in the streets of the Windy City since they began their catch and release program. It’s not just murders that are spiking, but all major forms of violent crime and property crime are also surging. All this death and destruction in the wake of bail reform does not make the powers that be look very wise or responsible. So they funded a study to create the impression that everything’s grand and that the unprecedented violence being reported by Chicago’s residents is really just an illusion.

The Office of the Chief Judge of the Cook County Courts, Timothy C. Evers - himself a massive proponent of bail reform - was tasked with creating the aforementioned study and surprise, surprise it concluded that crime is actually down slightly in Chicago since the bail bond company was eliminated. This flies directly in the face of what residents are experiencing on the ground, and so the University of Utah Quinney College of Law decided to put Judge Evers’ study under the microscope. Their goal was to see whether the study was flawed, or if the people of Chicago are just experiencing some kind of mass hallucination. The results were eye-opening.

Tipping the Scales: How the Pros Do It

Bail reform was part of a larger bill that was pushed through the Illinois legislature and signed by the governor in 2017. Not every aspect of the bill, known as SB2034, dealt with the issue of cash bail. In fact, the part of the bill that eliminated bail did not kick in until the start of 2021, 4 years after the bill was signed. But, since the bill did contain references to bail reform (even if its implementation was delayed), the crafty folks at the Chief Judge’s office decided to use 2017 as the start date for their study on the effectiveness of bail reform.

With their fatally flawed and politically motivated logic providing the basis for their so-called study the team at the Chief Judge’s office then set out to create favorable “before” and “after” periods that would give them the best chance of making it appear bail reform was working.

For the “before” period they chose 2016, which just happened to be one of the deadliest years on record in Chicago with more than 750 homicides. And then they took the winter months of 2018 - an unusually quiet period for homicides - as the “after” period (remember, cash bail was still in use in the winter of 2018 even though the governor had signed SB2034 in 2017). Comparing the 2 they then proclaimed that homicide rates had dropped because of bail reform. It was the epitome of deception.

If you really want to see the effect eliminating the bail bond agent has had on homicides in Chicago look at the number of murders before and after cash bail was actually eliminated at the beginning of 2021. In 2019 there were roughly 500 murders in Chicago. Then, in 2021 after bail was eliminated, the number of murders jumped to more than 800. Enough said.

Another trick the study used to fudge the numbers and make it appear that the elimination of 24-hour bail bonds was a good idea was something called the "community safety rate" (CSR). That purports to measure the recidivism rate of people out on pretrial release. In this case, it was used to create a deliberately incomplete picture in order to suggest bail reform was effective.

Here’s how the deception worked: According to the bail reform study the CSR prior to bail reform was 82%. Afterward, the study claims it was 83%. In other words, 1% fewer pretrial releases were being rearrested after bail reform took hold. Sounds good huh? But here’s the truth.

The CSR ignores the total number of crimes being committed in favor of the abstract CSR rate. The fact is if you released 100 people on PR before and roughly 18% were being rearrested and now you’re releasing 200 on PR and roughly 17% are being rearrested that means the total number of crimes has increased from 18 to 34. That’s the reality facing Chicago residents every day.

The Bottom Line

The team from the University of Utah concluded that the study released by the Cook County Chief Judge’s office was deeply flawed in its methodology and seems to have been designed to reach a predetermined conclusion: that bail reform works.

UT’s own assessment of the facts indicates that since cash bail was eliminated in Illinois the number of pretrial rearrests has increased by a whopping 45%. They also found that the number of pretrial releases who then go on to commit violent crimes is up by 33%. These appalling numbers, when taken in concert with the surge in homicides since the bonding company was eliminated, point to one unmistakable conclusion: bail reform doesn’t work.

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