September 13, 2021
In each of Illinois’ 102 counties, circuit court clerk offices collect and manage the payments of fines, fees, assessments and court costs across all circuit court divisions and distribute those moneys for a variety of local and state purposes. A significant portion of these fees and fines, including from bail bond payments in criminal cases, are used to fund the offices of the circuit court clerks and other county-level court services.
In criminal cases, it is common for a judge to set a cash bail at a criminal defendant’s initial appearance before the court, which the person then must pay in order to secure their release from jail while the case is pending. After a defendant or someone on the defendant’s behalf pays the deposit for release, the payment is held until the conclusion of the criminal case. In the event of a conviction, the court may order a number of fines, fees and assessments to be paid, which are often deducted from the bond payment. After all court obligations have been met, clerks of courts are authorized by statute to retain 10% of the deposited bond amount as bail bond costs, and return 90% (725 ILCS 5/110-7). One exception is that in Cook County, the court clerk may only retain up to $100 of each bond deposited as bail bond costs. These bond deposit amounts retained by circuit court clerks will be referred to as bond processing fees in this analysis. After fines and fees are applied from the bond payments, the remaining amount is refunded back to the person who paid the bond.
With the passage of Illinois’ criminal justice reform law, Public Act 101-0652 (known as the SAFE-T Act), the use of cash bail will be eliminated beginning January 1, 2023. This means judges may no longer order upfront payment of bond in order for criminal defendants to achieve pretrial release. In preparation for this significant change in practice, the Illinois Supreme Court Pretrial Practices Implementation Task Force set out to measure what financial impact this change will have on counties, and specifically on circuit court clerks who will no longer retain up to 10% of bond deposits for bond processing fees.
The SAFE-T Act does not alter the ability for other fees, fines, and assessments to be imposed on those convicted of crimes in Illinois. However, as a result of the SAFE-T Act’s abolition of cash bail, in addition to the revenue generated from bond processing fees being eliminated, the ability to pay off imposed fees, fines, and assessments with money that had been posted for bail will end. Because of this, it will be important to consider and monitor the potential impact this change may have, such as delayed payment to private attorneys or violations of probation/extended probation terms stemming from non-payment of fines, fees or restitution. There will also need to be consideration of what government functions were financially supported with the bond processing fees, and what other sources of revenue can be used to support these activities.
The Civic Federation assisted the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC) and the Pretrial Practices Implementation Task Force with conducting this analysis. The primary purpose of the analysis was to identify how much money counties across Illinois collect and process annually in bond payments, and how circuit court clerks distribute those bond amounts. We hope the information presented in this report will be informative to all criminal justice stakeholders as Illinois moves toward landmark pretrial reforms and the elimination of cash bail.
The findings presented in this report may lead to further questions for consideration:
- What are the implications of fee and fine collection without having upfront bond payments from which to deduct these fees and fines?
- How much potential revenue from the bond processing fees will be lost to counties? Should this lost revenue at the county level be compensated by the State of Illinois?
We would like to offer special thanks to Katie Blakeman, Senior Data and Innovation Manager at the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, for her assistance with this project and with obtaining the data needed to conduct the analysis.
In preparation for the elimination of cash bail beginning in January 2023, the Illinois Supreme Court Pretrial Practices Implementation Task Force set out to measure the financial impact this policy change will have on counties throughout the State of Illinois, as well as circuit court clerks who will no longer retain up to 10% of bond deposits as bond processing fees. In a first-of-its-kind comprehensive analysis, this report provides information about bond payments collected and disbursed in criminal cases based on data from 95 of the 102 counties in Illinois. The primary purpose of the analysis was to identify how much money counties across Illinois collect and process annually in bond payments, and how circuit court clerks distribute those bond amounts. The report focuses on the amount of bond payments applied, which are payments processed and disbursed at the conclusion of a criminal case, as opposed to bond payments collected at the time of pretrial release. Bond payments are applied to a variety of purposes at the conclusion of a criminal case, including fines, fees, assessments, court costs, restitution, and refunds to the person who paid the bond.
Here are the key findings from the analysis:
- Across the 95 Illinois counties that provided data, bond payments processed and disbursed in criminal cases totaled $153.2 million in 2016. This amount decreased to $121.9 million in 2020;
- On average over the five-year period, the dollar amount of bonds processed in Cook County represented approximately 40% of the statewide total;
- The majority of total bond disbursements—70%—were applied to satisfy court-ordered fees; 10% were applied to satisfy fines and restitution payments; and the remaining 20% were refunded to the person who paid the bond or paid to private attorneys that represented the defendant;
- Clerks of circuit courts collected a total of $14.9 million in bond processing fees in 2016, which decreased to $4.8 million in 2020. On average over this period, bond processing fees represented 8% of total bonds applied. These bond processing fees will be eliminated with the abolition of cash bail;
- Other fines and fees will not be eliminated with the abolition of cash bail, but judges may no longer order bond payments for pretrial release, which means these bond payments will no longer be used to satisfy the payment of fees and fines;
- Of the total fees applied from bond payments over the five-year period from 2016 to 2020 among 88 counties for which detailed data were available, an average of 58% of bond payments were distributed to satisfy county-specific fees; the remaining 42% were directed to other state or municipal fees imposed on the defendant.
Please refer to the Methodology and Data Limitations sections of the report for details about the information included in the analysis and the limitations and challenges with data received. The figures presented in this report should be considered estimates, meant to help inform criminal justice system stakeholders as Illinois moves toward a new pretrial release system.