by Daniel A. Rosen |
Illinois has become the first state in the country to completely eliminate the use of cash bail. The bill signed by Governor J.B. Pritzker in February of 2021 was the result of a years-long effort by over 100 reform organizations, legislators, and the House Legislative Black Caucus to end a practice they say disproportionately affects defendants of color.
House Bill 3653 makes sweeping changes to the state’s policies on policing, arrests, and public safety.
“This legislation marks a substantial step towards dismantling the systemic racism that plagues our communities, our state and our nation and brings us closer to true safety, true fairness and true justice,” Governor Pritzker said.
Other states like California, New York, and New Jersey, as well as Washington, D.C., have limited the use of cash bail in recent years, but none had eliminated it entirely. Under the new Illinois law, a judge may consider what risk a defendant poses to the community, and whether he’s a flight risk in determining whether to hold him prior to trial – but magistrates are no longer able to set any kind of bail.
Kam Buckner, chairman of the House Legislative Black Caucus, said that exhaustive research was done on the practices of other states and countries. He also noted that legislators had tried for more than five years to end the practice, but it wasn’t until the killing of George Floyd that the bill received consideration.
“We’ve had a very obvious and painful reckoning over the last 12 months in this country,” said Buckner. People have done “some soul searching and have realized that we need to change the way we do business.”
The current cash bail system won’t be replaced until January of 2023, giving the state about two years to prepare and effect a transition. The bill also institutes major police reforms, including a ban on chokeholds, mandatory use of body cameras, and guidelines for decertifying police officers.
“History will judge how we responded in this moment, which called for big, bold, transformative changes,” said the bill’s sponsor, Democratic State Senator Elgie Sims. “This is not a moment for incrementalism, but one which calls for us to reimagine what public safety looks like in this great state,” he said.
Sims went on to say that the new law “increases accountability and transparency in law enforcement, modernizes our bail and sentencing systems, and provides for greater protections” of those arrested and accused of crimes.
Law enforcement groups and many lawmakers opposed the legislation. State Republican party Chair Don Tracy said the bill “is willfully undermining public safety – endangering citizens, emboldening criminals, and making Illinois less safe for families.”
The Illinois Law Enforcement Coalition, which represents officers statewide, said the bill will prevent the police from doing their jobs. “This new law is a blatant move to punish an entire, honorable profession that will end up hurting law-abiding citizens the most,” said the Coalition in a statement.
The executive director of the Illinois Sheriff’s Association, Jim Kaitschuk, said the elimination of cash bail would make cities and towns less safe. When people are suffering from mental health or addiction problems, Kaitschuk says, “The only way to intervene is to arrest them and bring them to jail, where you have the opportunity to sit in a cell and get some help.”
State Senator Sims, the bill’s sponsor, noted that “the argument we have to lock people up to get them help is antithetical to what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Sources: nytimes.com, NBCNews.com
Originally written for Prison Legal News.