Implementing the Pretrial Fairness Act in Cook County, Illinois 


In 2021, Illinois passed the Pretrial Fairness Act (PFA), with the legislation taking effect in January 2023. The law impacts logistics across the pretrial phase of the legal system, leaving local stakeholders with the task of interpreting and operationalizing the new laws. Local jurisdictions sometimes lack the dedicated staff and capacity to do what needs to be done to prepare for and implement such large-scale changes, especially in complex systems, such as Cook County. To help overcome these capacity issues, Cook County partnered with JSP to assist with implementing the legislation and coordinating the change process across agencies and stakeholder groups, with a particular focus on equity.


While many are familiar with the processes involved in drafting and proposing legislation, less familiar is the work involved to implement those changes on the ground. With financial support provided by both the County and MacArthur Foundation, JSP helped Cook County to set up planning infrastructure to support the change process, identifying system and community representatives and establishing stakeholder groups dedicated to planning around specific areas. We facilitated and coordinated a series of topic-based and governance workgroups, with different groups serving different functions. Additionally, we cultivated and coached champions within each organization to facilitate the change process.  

To guide the planning process, JSP first guided the stakeholder groups through a mapping process, gathering documents, materials, and insight and uncovering key questions. After identifying changes necessitated by the legislation, we convened small working groups to propose new processes addressing those changes. We are guiding those broadly representative groups through the tactical planning process, identifying considerations related to forms, infrastructure, staffing, procedures, communications, and funding needs in order to shift the current system towards the one envisioned in the new law. Along the way, JSP is helping stakeholders to identify opportunities to make corresponding human-centered improvements that increase equity in the system. Additionally, we are liaising with local researchers to forecast impact and measure outcomes.


Implementation success is tied to the details. Broad system changes such as those outlined in the PFA are only possible through the combination of many, many smaller changes to policies, procedures, technology, staffing, and infrastructure. Careful consideration of key details like sequencing, timing, funding, communication, training, change management, and measurement and evaluation will orient Cook County to successfully implement the PFA, leading to decreased use of detention and fewer collateral consequences for those navigating pretrial processes. Local universities and researchers will help to measure and illustrate these impacts. We have invited all stakeholders to be innovators as we engage in collective problem solving leading up to, and following, the legislation taking effect in January 2023. For more on the change process in Cook County, visit our blog.


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