CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — The elimination of cash bail under the SAFE-T Act on Jan. 1 could render the services of a countywide non-profit obsolete.
The Champaign County Bailout Coalition was founded around the belief that no one should await their day in court from a jail cell just because they can’t afford to post bond. The non-profit has spent nearly $200,000 in donations to offset the cost of bail for more than 155 people since starting up in 2019.
E, a volunteer since 2019, will likely be around to see the Bailout Coalition’s final days.
“That’s like, what we would hope for in an ideal world,” she said when asked to confirm the non-profit would fall into disuse in the new year.
The plan is to disperse remaining donation funds to “like-minded organizations,” E said, to help people who have served their prison sentences more easily jump over the hurdles that come with re-entering society years later.
Champaign non-profit FirstFollowers could be considered one of those non-profits with a similar mission.
FirstFollowers leadership, like the director of advocacy and outreach James Kilgore, have been in the shoes of those they set out to help.
Breaking re-entry barriers can include a host of help, including assistance in finding housing or jobs, and even getting an ID.
“Most of us, we’ve been through the courts the prison system, etc, etc. so we’ve got some idea of some of the challenges that poses for people, some of the chaos it engenders in their life,” Kilgore said.
He’s been an outspoken proponent of the SAFE-T act.
“It’s putting in place the assumption that people are innocent until proven guilty. And we’ve been operating for too many years under the assumption that someone is guilty,” he added.
“The presumption is that when someone is cited by the police or they’re arrested, they will be detained until they pay a cash bond to get them released.”
“The people who are most likely to be arrested are disproportionately from low-income households,” Kilgore continued. “And in Champaign, and in most cities in Illinois, disproportionately Black. That’s who our clientele is, and so we see this as giving our clientele an opportunity to get some kind of justice and also, to avoid the reality that a single arrest can disrupt their entire life.”
“I’m going to share statistics that are completely unsurprising,” E said, echoing Kilgore’s sentiment. “The population of Champaign County jails is 56% Black people and Black people are only 14% of the population of Champaign County, whereas 37% of the jails are white people and 66% of Champaign County is white. So, like we know what’s happening here and it needs to change.”
Both organizations are hoping to see the end to cash bail benefit people currently sitting in jail, rather than limiting it to those charged on or after Jan. 1.