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Illinois Becomes First State To Get Rid Of Cash Bail

Illinois is the first state to get rid of the cash bail practice, which disproportionately affects people of color.

A fence surrounds the Cook County jail complex on April 09, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois | Getty Images
A fence surrounds the Cook County jail complex on April 09, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois | Getty Images

Illinois became the first state to end cash bail after Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signed a sweeping criminal justice reform bill into law on February 22. 

The legislation makes significant changes that promote “safety, fairness, and justice” within Illinois’ criminal justice system, according to the governor’s office. The bill eradicated the cash bail system, which has been called a “poor people's tax” by criminal justice reform advocates, as it leaves people who are unable to afford bail detained for extended periods as they await trial. It also disproportionately affects people of color.

The new law, called the Illinois Pre-Trial Fairness Act, “prioritizes public safety” over wealth.

“Money will no longer be the main determining factor in whether somebody will be in or out of jail,” Sharone Mitchell, Jr. told NowThis. Mitchell is director of the Illinois Justice Project, a group that has been fighting to end the cash bail practice. “This legislation marks a substantial step toward true safety, true fairness, and true justice.”

While Illinois is the first state to end cash bail entirely, other states have restricted its use. New Jersey switched over to a “risk-based system” in 2017 instead of completely relying on cash bail. A 2018 study in the state found that a majority of people released pre-trial were not accused of additional crimes and returned for court appearances.

Mitchell said cash bail can set someone back in different ways.

“What studies tell us is that when you put somebody in jail, especially in a short term period, that you're actually increasing the criminogenic factors that exist in their life,” Mitchell said. “When somebody would go to jail for a few weeks, they will lose their job... They would [have] to pay rent. They would get behind [on] rent, if they had anything going on in terms of education, that would be lost. So you do that short-term jailing, that person comes back out and they're in a worse place than they were before.”

Illinois’ criminal justice bill also enacted statewide reform to police departments, including investing in officer training, setting a standard for de-escalation and use of force, and requiring all officers to wear body cameras, according to the governor’s office.

“This legislation marks a substantial step toward dismantling the systemic racism that plagues our communities, our state and our nation,” Gov. Pritzker said in a statement. “This bill was also infused with solutions from individuals most directly impacted: survivors of domestic violence, survivors of crime, and those who have been detained pre-trial only because they are poor."

Both the governor’s office and Mitchell clarified that the bill does not mean everyone who is detained will be released but that a judge can’t use money as a factor for detainment.

“The current situation allows money to make that decision,” Mitchell continued. “And I think the consensus is that that's a bad way of determining incarceration.”

Parts of the law will be effective July 1, 2021, while other parts will be rolled out slowly, according to a timeline from the governor’s office. The Pretrial Fairness Act will take full effect on January 1, 2023.

Zinhle Essamuah, Abby Grisez, and Lorenzo Ferrigno contributed to this report.

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