Illinois may be the first state to end cash bail when Governor JB Pritzker signs the Pretrial Fairness Act (HB3653 SFA2) passed by the Illinois Legislature in mid-January.
“I have long held that an essential mark of good governance is a willingness to change the laws that have failed the people of Illinois,” said Gov. Pritzker. “This criminal justice package carries with it the opportunity to shape our state into a lesson in true justice for the nation by abolishing cash bail, modernizing sentencing laws, instituting a certification and decertification system for police officers statewide, requiring body cameras, reforming crowd control response, and amplifying law enforcement training standards.”
Cash bail has ruined lives by keeping some innocent people in jail just because they could not afford to pay the required bail to get out. According to the Prison Policy Project 550,000 people are incarcerated around the country who haven’t been convicted or sentenced.
The group reports that the median bail amount for a felony is $10,000, which equals about eight month’s salary for a typical person who cannot afford their bail.
In Illinois, pretrial incarceration affects almost 250,000 people who are locked up in jails each year, 90 percent of whom are there pretrial, and a majority because they cannot afford to pay a money bond.
HB 3653 was sponsored by Illinois State Senators Elgie Sims and Robert Peters, and State Representative Justin Slaughter as part of a sweeping criminal justice reform package presented by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus; the Pretrial Fairness Act (HB 3653 SFA2) is a piece of that legislation. It passed Jan. 13.
“The criminal justice reform package we passed earlier this month went a long way toward securing real safety and justice for our communities, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” State Senator Robert Peters said.
“The package did not remove systemic racism; it still exists and affects communities of color every minute of every day. As chair of the Public Safety Committee, I pledge to continue the fight and deliver a future where everyone in our state can be made whole,” he added.
Activists with the Coalition with the Chicago Community Bond Fund, Coalition to End Money Bond and the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice Project worked for years and organized thousands of people to send letters, place calls, provide witness testimony, and make social media posts that led to #EndMoneyBail trending on Twitter Jan. 13.
The Pre-trial Fairness Act drastically limits the types of charges eligible for pre-trial detention at the first court date, among other provisions. No one arrested for a misdemeanor, with the exception of domestic violence, can be jailed pre-trial and many other charges which are unlikely to result in conviction are also ineligible for pre-trial detention.
In addition to abolishing cash bond, the law will:
Create a Statewide System of Pretrial Data Collection;
Allow for Citations in lieu of Arrests: Law enforcement officials will now have the ability to issue citations in lieu of arrest for people accused of “traffic and Class B and C criminal misdemeanor offenses, or of petty and business offenses, who pose no obvious threat to the community or any person, or who have no obvious medical or mental health issues that pose a risk to their own safety.”
Gives People Arrested Access to a Phone within Three Hours of Arrest—No Exceptions.
Wealth based detention incarcerates the poor, who are usually Black and Latino. Studies show they are detained pre-trial at higher rates than other people. When they do receive a money bail, Black people receive significantly higher bail than all other ethnic and racial groups and are less likely to be able to post the bail amount. Bail is usually set by judges in less than a minute and people with almost identical charges are often assigned bails that differ by tens of thousands of dollars.
“This is the first step toward reforming the entire criminal legal system in America, which is an instrument of White supremacy,” Attorney Hakeem Muhammad told The Final Call. He also works with the Illinois Parole Board. “This reform shows the success of various activists who have pressured the system and fought White supremacy. This is a victory for the activists who have been pushing for this,” said Atty. Muhammad. Law enforcement groups have voiced their opposition to the bill and are asking the governor to veto it or “work with them to find areas of agreement.”
“A police officer who spoke out against the reform said it will allow dangerous people to get out of prison. However, one of the founding principles of the United States Constitution in regards to the legal system is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. When you’re accused of a crime, you’re presumed innocent until the evidence proves otherwise,” explained Atty. Muhammad.