bail, cash bail, criinal justice, illinois

In Historic Move, Illinois Says Goodbye To Cash Bail For Some

Starting September 17, people arrested for crimes in Illinois won’t have to worry about paying their bail in cash in order to be released from jail. The elimination of cash bail in Illinois, the first state in the country to instigate the move, was met with support and opposition from those on the front lines of the change.

Under the Pretrial Fairness Act, passed as an extension of the Illinois SAFE-T Act, those charged in criminal cases will not have to pay a cash amount to be released from jail as they await trial. 

The long-anticipated elimination of cash bail is finally happening after extensive delays, legal challenges, and pushback from prosecutors and law enforcement officials.

There are still restrictions on those who can be free before their trial, however. A judge has to decide that the charged criminal is not a willful flight risk or a threat to public safety before they’re released, and then they won’t be asked to pay any money alongside that designation.  

Those arrested for serious or violent felonies can be remanded before their trial on that basis. The list of felonies includes first- and second-degree murder, predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, aggravated criminal sexual assault and criminal sexual assault, violent robberies and burglaries, residential burglary, home invasion, and vehicular invasion.

This is a marked change from the currently upheld system, where individuals must post a designated bail amount to ensure that they will show up for their upcoming court hearings without issue. 

Human rights and prison reform activists say the typical procedure of cash bail unfairly punishes those based on their negative financial situation rather than any real threat they pose to the public. Brana Payton, senior policy analyst from the Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts, said, “Black, Brown and poor communities are bearing the brunt of this injustice that is wealth-based incarceration.” 

The 2022 federal civil rights report revealed that courts systemically tended to place more expensive pretrial detention amounts on people who identified as Black or Latinx. Some 60% of defendants out of the 631,000 people jailed daily in the U.S. were detained before their trial because they couldn’t afford to post their bail amount.

A Cook County public defender explained, “The reality of the situation is that the use of money bonds is a deplorable practice. Frankly, it has very close ties to slavery. We’re putting dollar amounts on people’s freedom. We are very excited that we are moving to a new process that doesn’t ask people to buy their freedom.”

Following the new policy, individuals already in jail who cannot pay their cash bail can request another hearing to discuss being released after examination of their accused offense. 

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