Illinois bail reform change under renewed scrutiny


(NewsNation) — Politicians are butting heads over an Illinois law set to take effect Jan. 1 that would eliminate the state’s cash bail system.

Under the Pretrial Fairness Act — part of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ criminal justice reform bill — judges will determine whether a person should be released based on a public safety evaluation rather than posting cash bail while they await trial. Illinois will be the first state in the U.S. to abolish cash bail.

Proponents of the change say it will make communities safer by ensuring that defendants who pose a risk to the public won’t be released based on their access to money. They also say it helps curb the disproportionate impact cash bail systems have on Black, brown and impoverished communities.

Opponents of the new law, however, worry it will lead to the release of potentially violent people and lead to a spike in crime.

Republican state Sen. John Curran, who has called to repeal the law, says it won’t combat racial disparities,

“There’s no racial component in this bill?” he said. “What this bill does is creates a catch-and-release system.”

Mayor Keith Pekau of Orland Park, Illinois, is one of the many voices railing against the state’s criminal justice reform.

“This is a massive threat to the residents of Orland Park, Cook County and Illinois,” he said.

Law enforcement throughout the state has long opposed the removal of cash bail.

“I believe if they eliminate that, it is going to make our communities less safe and we’re going to see a spike in every reportable crime,” said Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell.

Leaders from the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence, however, have said the new system allows survivors to better advocate “for what they need to feel safe and secure.”

In a statement published in the Rockford Register Star, advocates Madeleine Behr and Amanda Pyron clarified that the new pretrial system will not release all suspected criminals. Rather, it will hold those charged with forcible felonies, including domestic or sexual violence, for up to 48 hours and allow prosecutors time to gather information about whether someone poses a threat to others, they said.

Facts of a person’s case, the weight of the evidence against them and other factors including the defendant’s physical and mental health, flight risk, and outstanding orders of protection will still be taken into consideration when a judge is determining whether to detain or release an arrested person.

The ACLU says the move restores the presumption of innocence.

“People charged with crimes are supposed to be presumed innocent until they’re proven guilty,” said Ben Ruddell of ACLU Illinois. “But today, under our current system, that presumption is turned on its head because people who are accused of a crime are held in jail oftentimes simply because they can’t afford to pay a certain amount of money.”

People incarcerated for as little as 72 hours are 2.5 times more likely to be unemployed one year later, according to the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice and the Coalition to End Money Bond.

Past incarceration also reduces annual income by as much as 40% and pretrial detainment can increase the likeliness that a person will be arrested in the future, even if they are found not guilty, the groups reported.

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