Illinois Becomes First State to Eliminate Cash Bail


Illinois has become the first state to completely eliminate cash bail, as a result of a push by state lawmakers to end a practice they say keeps the poor in jail for months awaiting trial. and it disproportionately affects Black and Latino defendants.

The change is part of a sweeping law signed by Gov. JB Pritzker, a Democrat, on Monday. He said the legislation would transform the state’s legal system and increase accountability measures for police officers, such as requiring the use of body cameras by police departments across the state.

“This legislation marks a substantial step toward dismantling the systemic racism that affects our communities, our state and our nation and brings us closer to true safety, true fairness and true justice.” Pritzker said in a statement.

Over the years, New Jersey, California and New York have limited the use of bail, a system that opponents have criticized as unfair to poor people, who are forced to remain in detention even though they have not been convicted on the charges that led to their arrest. Supporters of the removal of the cash bond have pointed to cases like that of Kalief Browder, who was 16 when ordered to be held for three years on Rikers Island because his family was unable to post a $ 3,000 bond. Browder, who was accused of stealing a backpack, committed suicide two years after his release, when he was 22 years old.

Under the new Illinois law, judges will no longer be able to set any type of bail for a defendant charged with a crime, making it unique among states that have reformed the bail system, according to lawmakers.

Lawmakers had been trying for at least five years to pass legislation to end the practice, according to State Representative Kam Buckner, who is also chairman of the Illinois House of Representatives Black Legislative Caucus, which pushed through the law.

The murder of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer held his knee to his neck for more than eight minutes, triggered a nationwide review of the treatment of black and other people of color by the Police and the judicial system, said Mr. Buckner said.

“We have had a very obvious and painful reckoning for the past 12 months in this country,” he said. People have done “an examination of conscience and realized that we have to change the way we do business.”

Buckner said the legislation was the culmination of a comprehensive investigation into laws and practices in other states and countries. Under the new system, judges will be presented with evidence to determine what kind of risk it poses to the community to release a defendant and whether the defendant can be counted on to return to court. A judge will then determine whether the person should be detained until trial.

The cash bail system won’t be abolished until January 2023, giving judicial officials time to prepare for the new system, said State Senator Elgie Sims, one of the authors of the legislation.

The Illinois Law Enforcement Coalition, a group representing law enforcement officials across the state, said in a statement that the new law would cripple police officers trying to do their jobs. The coalition said that political leaders had discounted some 120,000 state residents who signed a petition opposing the legislation.

“This new law is a blatant move to punish an entire honorable profession that will end up doing more harm to law-abiding citizens,” said the coalition, which represents police union groups as well as the Sheriffs’ Association. Illinois and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs Association, said he was concerned that removing the cash bond would make cities and towns less safe.

Prisons have de facto become centers for people with mental health disorders and addiction, he said. “The only way to intervene is to arrest them and take them to jail, where you have the opportunity to sit in a cell and receive help,” Kaitschuk said.

The new law does not take into account the lack of resources for defendants who can be released into the community without access to mental health or drug counseling and “be a risk to themselves or others,” he said.

“I’m certainly not going to sit here and profess that the system is completely fair in its entirety,” Kaitschuk said. “But we completely dumped everything here.”

Sims, the state senator, said the law would divert people charged with low-level drug offenses to recovery programs.

“The argument that we have to lock up people to help them is contrary to what we are trying to achieve,” he said.

Opponents of removing cash bail have also pointed to spikes in crime in cities like New York, where the number of homicides and shootings rose last year.

There is no data linking changes in the bail system to the rise in crime, said Preeti Chauhan, a professor of psychology and director of the Data Collaborative for Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which examined changes in the bail system. New York Bail Bonds. .

There have been recent increases in crime in dozens of American cities, including places where bail has not been reformed, Professor Chauhan said, pointing to other factors that could be affecting crime rates, such as the pandemic, rising unemployment and the shortage of affordable housing. .

“Something bigger is happening,” he said.

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