Illinois jail numbers were supposed to drop with the end of cash bail. Did they?

Advocates for ending cash bail in Illinois are praising a 7.5% drop in the average number of people being held in the Winnebago County Jail since August as a positive early sign.

A new law eliminating cash bail called the Pretrial Fairness Act took effect a month ago. A new pretrial system was introduced that seeks to evaluate whether a defendant accused of a crime is a danger to the community or is a flight risk before a determination is made on whether he or she should be jailed before trial.

There is an assumption the court will set conditions for pretrial release unless clear and convincing evidence is presented as to why a defendant should be jailed. Money no longer plays a role.

"People who do not need to be detained awaiting trial, who should be with their family, who should be working, who should be trying to keep their life on track, who are not a risk to their community or another person, shouldn't be detained before a conviction," said the Rev. Matthew Johnson of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rockford.

"Over time, I think we should see a steady decrease in the jail population."

More: Meet the judge presiding over Rockford's new no cash bail court

Average daily jail populations in Winnebago County fell from 802 in August to 765 in September to 742 so far in October. The jail has a capacity for 1,300 inmates and the numbers include more than 100 defendants being held on federal charges.

That is the lowest the average daily jail population has been in Winnebago County since it averaged 735 inmates in August 2021, when the numbers were still being impacted by the global pandemic, Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana said.

Caruana said that it will likely take months to see how the pretrial fairness act will impact the jail.

So far, there have been few hearings in Winnebago County seeking the release of inmates held on bond from before the new law took effect, Caruana said. Numbers of the detained could swing back and forth when more are released under the new rules and then perhaps returned to jail for re-offending or missing court dates.

"It's still too early," Caruana said. "Let's see how it shakes out as we move down the road. There is no doubt some of it is from the Pretrial Fairness Act."

Stephenson and Boone counties have also seen decreases in average daily jail populations since August. Stephenson County Sheriff Steve Stovall said there was a 21.5% decrease from 65 in August to 58 in September to 51 in October.

Boone County Sheriff Scott Yunk estimates that his jail has seen a 25% decrease in inmates since the implementation of the new rules.

Ann Rundall, a retired Rockford Public Schools principal and a leader of Eliminate Racism 815, is a volunteer courtroom observer organized by Rockford Urban Ministries to watch the rollout of the Pretrial Fairness Act in Winnebago County.

She has observed initial appearance court on three separate occasions and is trying to go once a week. So far, she said court personnel appear to be applying the law as they are supposed to.

Rundall said it was "wonderful" to learn that the number of people being held in jail appears to be decreasing since the Pretrial Fairness Act was implemented Sept. 18. She said that people in the past would too often sit in jail for "months and months and months" simply because they couldn't afford bail.

It punished families for being poor, not because a defendant was a danger to the public, Rundall said.

"They haven't been proven guilty of anything yet, but they are sitting in a jail cell because they don't have money," Rundall said. "That's not fair. That's not right."

Jeff Kolkey can be reached at (815) 987-1374, via email at and on Twitter @jeffkolkey.

This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: Reform advocates praise falling numbers at Rockford area jails