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How will the end of cash bail in Illinois impact the St. Clair County Jail population?

The entrance of the St. Clair County Jail in Belleville.
Belleville News-Democrat
The St. Clair County Jail in Belleville has a capacity of 418 inmates, according the county. However, that number often exceeds its capacity by more than 100. The chief judge said the numbers may drop, but a jail spokesman said the population could possibly increase.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

St. Clair County officials monitoring the number of people held in the county jail do not see the jail population dropping in the long-term with the abolition of cash bail.

Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson said the numbers may drop in the next eight weeks but he doesn’t expect that to continue. A jail spokesman said the jail population could even increase in the long term.

The county has a capacity of 418 inmates, but often exceeds that number, sometimes by more than 100.

Under the new criminal justice system that began Monday, people charged with some types of violent crime will no longer be able to post bail to get out of jail before their trial. Instead, prosecutors can petition for them to go before a judge in a detention hearingand then the judge can order them to be held until their trial.

Conversely, those who were held in jail solely because they could not afford to pay their bail on lower-level offenses can be released by a judge under the new system.

“I think you’re going to see in the next month or two perhaps the jail population decreases but I don’t think you’re going to see a significant decrease in the jail population,” Gleeson said. “We had already been making adjustments in terms of how we were assessing the lower-level, non-violent crimes.

“The people who are there, for the most part for a period of time, need to be there.”

Sgt. James Hendricks, a spokesman for the jail, said the jail population may actually increase with cash bail abolished.

“We think it possibly could go up higher than what it has been,” Hendricks said.

But Hendricks noted that officials will have to wait to “see how all the numbers shake out.”

On Sunday, which was the last day for the cash bail process, the jail population was 451.

It was 418 late on Wednesday. This included 37 federal prisoners who are not part of the state criminal justice system. The county receives $75 per day for housing each of the federal prisoners.

The jail population was down to 404 on Thursday.

Hendricks said there are no current plans to expand the capacity of the jail.

In 2014 and 2017, the county asked residents to approve tax increases for various public safety measures, including improvements at the jail, but both proposals were rejected.

Hendricks said some of the detainees in the county jail had been talking about whether the new law would give them a chance at freedom.

In the first seven detention hearings conducted by county judges, five people, including two charged with murder, were remanded to the county jail and two were allowed to leave.

“This is definitely not a Get Out of Jail Free card,” Hendricks said. “If you commit crimes, you’re still going to be arrested. You’ll still face the justice system. There is the possibility that people could face longer incarceration periods based on the crimes they committed.

“We don’t want people to think that you won’t be held accountable for your actions.”

Mike Koziatek is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Mike Koziatek is a reporter who covers the Belleville area for the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.