Illinois leaders explain impact if cash bail ends

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Historic Pretrial Fairness Act would end cash bail for Illinoisans

PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — A bill awaiting the signature of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker would wipe away the cash bail system, but not all lawmakers are in agreement with the move.

In a conference hosted by the Appeal Monday, key players in the fight to reform the pretrial practices said the cash bail system raises questions about the constitutionality of the bill.

According to the Illinois Supreme Court website, the cash bail system was not created to keep someone in jail for months or years until their trial. Instead, its purpose is to ensure defendants make all court appearances after being arrested, charged, and released.

“Money bond is not actually about one’s safety. Money bond stands at this intersection of being poor, poor and black, (and) poor black and a woman,” said State Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago).

The Illinois General Assembly passed House Bill 3653 earlier this month. The 764-page bill encompasses a number of measures to reform police training, police accountability, and defendants’ and prisoners’ rights.

The bill is also slated to end cash bail, informally known as the Pretrial Fairness Act.

If the law is passed, paying to be bonded out of jail will go into effect in Illinois in 2023. According to the bill, the state has two years to transition into eliminating money bonds.

Sharone Mitchell, Director of the Illinois Justice Project, said the Pretrial Fairness Act will prevent people accused of non-violent crimes, those who cannot afford bail, from sitting in jail until their trial.

“Judges still have the ability to make decisions in cases where someone is charged with a qualifying offense,” he said.

Among those qualifying offenses are domestic battery, murder, and certain gun crimes. Those would potentially keep defendants behind bars.

Sen. Peters agrees with Mitchell and said the current cash bail system reinforces the idea that if you are poor, you are assumed to be more dangerous.

“If the conversation is around safety, then knowing that if you have money, you have the privilege to be free, isn’t actually a judgment on whether or not a person or community is safe. It’s only a judgment (on) if you are rich enough to do what you want,” Peters said.

However, not everyone is on board with the proposed changes.

Some law enforcement agencies, including local departments, are pushing back by saying scrapping the bail system risks the safety of Illinois residents.

In a letter to the governor, Tazewell County Sheriff Jeffrey Lower said he does not want to eliminate cash bail. In the letter, he wrote in part, “Without bail, many dangerous offenders will walk free within hours of their arrest.”

Lower told WMBD, “It’s going to be more dangerous moving forward because the accountability isn’t going to be there.”

The Pretrial Fairness Act passed the Illinois General Assembly, but still needs the governor’s signature.

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