Chicago's "bail reform" led to more crime

In 2017, Cook County, Illinois (comprised primarily of the city of Chicago) instituted new “bail reform” rules intended to minimize the number of defendants who would be required to pay bail in order to be released while awaiting trial. This was billed as a social justice reform initiative, preventing low-income offenders from being kept in jail simply because they couldn’t afford to pay to get out. It was a proposal similar to those adopted in New York City, Philadelphia and other large, Democrat-run municipalities.

Opponents of the move argued that releasing more known offenders back onto the streets would increase crime rates. This month, Don Stemen and David Olson of Loyola University attempted to bat that idea down, issuing a report claiming that no significant increases in crime were measured following the reforms. That’s great news for the social justice warriors, right? Well, it would have been, were it not for one problem. As the New York Post points out this week, Stemen and Olson botched the analysis. And it really shouldn’t have been that hard of an error to catch because all we’re really talking about is elementary school level math.

A recent report confirms, however inadvertently, that Cook County’s controversial limits on the use of cash bail caused more crime on the streets of Chicago and resulted in fewer defendants showing up in court.

A close look at the analysis from Loyola University’s Don Stemen and David Olson — though the two scholars purport to show the opposite — makes clear that bail-“reform” skeptics were right to worry about how policies like Chicago’s would affect public safety and criminal justice.

The reform in question took effect in 2017, when Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans required that judges not mandate cash bail unless strong reason existed to do so; the move was an effort to reduce the number of offenders held only because they couldn’t afford to get out.

One area where the Loyola team was forced to agree with the bail reform skeptics deals with the percentage of suspects who fail to show up for their court appearances. In the years since the reforms were enacted, no-shows for trial dates rose from 16.7 percent to 19.8 percent. That adds up to hundreds of cases where the Chicago PD was forced to seek and execute an arrest warrant for someone who should have been either safely behind bars or bound by a bail bondsman so they would have more incentive to appear.

But what about those crime rates? Stemen and Olson either made a very basic math error or they were trying to be clever with the statistics. Their report claims that bail reform led to roughly 500 people being released who would otherwise have remained behind bars. They go on to state that both before and after the reforms were enacted, approximately 17 percent of those released went on to commit a new crime while on bail, with 3 percent committing a violent offense. Thus, they concluded, the rates hadn’t changed.

Sadly for them, that’s a bunch of malarkey, as Joe Biden might say. Actual crime rates measure the total number of all crimes in a region on a per capita basis, not just the rates among a select group of individuals. By putting 500 more people on the streets that wouldn’t have been there otherwise, with 17% of them committing new crimes, the program led to led to roughly 85 additional crimes, including 16 additional violent crimes, being committed. So yes, the actual crime rates in the city went up.

Seeing more crimes committed when you put more criminals back out on the streets is just about as surprising as seeing rain in Seattle. No amount of mathematical hocus-pocus is going to change that. How anyone remains in denial about this is a mystery.