Local civil rights activists celebrate the possible end of cash bail, calling it racist and classist

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MCLEAN COUNTY, Ill. (WMBD) — Civil rights organizations based in McLean County hosted a virtual town hall Saturday morning titled “Discussion on Ending Money Bond.”

Hosts, including Bloomington-Normal Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), YWCA McLean County, Bloomington-Normal NAACP, and Bloomington-Normal Black Lives Matter, celebrated the passage of House Bill 3653, formerly House Bill 163.

These groups called the section about eliminating cash bail the “Pretrial Fairness Act.”

If House Bill 3653 is currently on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk and if signed into law, it will be implemented in 2023. Cash bail would be replaced with a risk-evaluation system and “pretrial release” system.

The virtual town hall sought to educate and advocate for the elimination of cash bail in America. The attendees celebrated that Illinois will be the first state to pass such a measure.

Louis Goseland of Bloomington-Normal DSA called cash bail “wealth-based incarceration,” arguing that people charged with a crime either walk free until trial if they have money or stay in jail until trial if they do not. Goseland and others described this as both racist and classist.

According to Liz German with the YWCA McLean County, more than 90% of people detained in Illinois have not actually been convicted of a crime and Black and Latino people are more likely to be detained than white people. Most detainees were only charged with misdemeanors, therefore, she argued, not a danger to society.

German also argued that the injustice runs deeper than just cash bail; if someone cannot afford bail, they likely also cannot afford a good defense team.

Olivia Butts, an organizer with Black Lives Matter (BLM) in Bloomington-Normal, said bailouts became a priority for BLM in 2018, and since then, the local chapter has been able to raise $20,000 and bail out 14 people.

However, local law enforcement has pushed back against House Bill 3653.

“I’ve been outspoken about cash bail. There is a purpose for this, there is a need for cash bail, and it will be dangerous if there is not one,” Brian Asbell, Peoria County Sheriff, said. “We saw what happens if you don’t have the ability to do immediate enforcement on certain violations. You don’t stop the negative behavior. You can write a summons, and someone has a court date a month down the road. But that negative behavior is going to continue and sometimes it will grow.”

Those wishing to sign up for “Decarcerate BloNo” can do so here or email decarcerateblono@gmail.com.

There will be a follow-up meeting to Saturday’s town hall on Feb. 18. The link to register for the virtual Zoom meeting can be found here.

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