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Elimination of cash bail expected to hurt circuit clerk revenues

By KEVIN BESSLER, The Center Square

A new study shows most county circuit court clerks in Illinois will lose about 11 percent of their general fund fee revenue when cash bail is eliminated in 2023.

The focus of the study is on the amount of bond payments applied, which means bonds processes and disbursed after a criminal case, and how clerks of circuit courts distributed those bond amounts.

According to a 5-year analysis from the Chicago Civic Federation in conjunction with the Illinois Supreme Court, the statewide total in bond processing fees ranged from about $4.9 million in 2020 to nearly $15 million in 2016. Bond processing fees help fund operations in the circuit clerk’s office and other county-level court services.

“This represents about 8 percent of the total bonds applied, and these bond processing fees will be eliminated with the abolishing of cash bail,” said Laurence Msall, president of the Chicago Civic Federation.

The report found that bond payments processed in criminal cases in 2016 totaled $153.2 million and this amount decreased to $121.9 million in 2020, largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If we are talking about 10 percent revenue lost, that would involve around $500,000, which is a considerable amount of money,” said Champaign County County Circuit Clerk Susan McGrath. “We will need to look at revenue replacement in the future.”

Ending cash bail was the goal of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus during the 102nd General Assembly. They said cash bail disproportionately penalizes poor defendants.

The study found that during the past 5 years, 20 percent of total bond payments were refunded. On average during that time, 58 percent of bond payments were distributed to county fees, while 42 percent of bonds applied to fees were directed to state or municipal fees.

Bond payments are earmarked for several things, including fines, restitution and court-ordered fees.


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