State considering bailing on cash bail

State Legislature

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) – The push to end cash bail in Illinois is gaining traction in the legislature.

Supporters of the bill believe the system is and always has been broken. They argue it negatively affects poor people and people of color.

The Sangamon County Sheriff thinks that financial stake is the only thing keeping people honest.

“The elimination of cash bail is simply going to make the jail a revolving door for criminals,” Campbell said. “And there’s going to be no real fear, no real repercussion for not coming back to your court date”

The elimination of cash bail is one of many reforms being considered and pushed through during the Illinois Legislature’s lame duck session. The entire reform package has already been met with solid support from advocates and vehement criticism from Republicans, law enforcement and state’s attorneys.

Organizations like the Illinois Justice Project worked with the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus to build the policy from the ground up.

“What we’ve offered with the pre trial Fairness Act, it often gets kind of labeled A just in money bond,” Executive Director of the Illinois Justice Project Sharone Mitchell Jr. said. “But ending money bond really is about two pages of a very large bill that really tries to reorganize our entire bail process, which is completely broken.”

The Pretrial Fairness Act eliminates a defendant’s financial situation from the equation, and lengthens the hearing process.

Under the current system, a person is brought in front of a judge after they are arrested. The judge has three potential paths to choose from when deciding the conditions of the arrest. The judge can decide that the person must be detained with no condition for release, allow them to go free before the trial with no financial commitment, or set a bond amount that the person must pay before they can go.

If the Pretrial Fairness Act passes, the judges choices would be limited to either detaining the person or not detaining the person before their trial.

“We hire judges to make tough decisions,” Mitchell said. “Our criminal justice system shouldn’t sound like a Capital One commercial. It shouldn’t be about like what’s in your wallet. It should be what a judge finds after a significant hearing with real clear standards that aren’t contradictory.”

The pre-Trial hearing process would also be extended and require up to two hearings to take place before the trial. The first hearing would focus solely on condition for release, and if the prosecutor calls for the person to be detained, their would be a second hearing dedicated to that decision.

Law enforcement are against the proposal. Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell says the cash bail system is the only way they can ensure a defendant returns to their court date. According to Campbell, it will lead to an uptick in crime – despite the judge still having the power to keep people in jail.

“I believe that they eliminate that it is going to make our communities less safe. And we’re going to see a spike in every reportable crime.”

The bail system in its current form leads to people making impossible decisions. Mitchell said in his time as a public defender, he would work with families who would have to decide between posting a family members bail or paying the bills.

To help solve those problems, many communities around the state started bail funds, which fundraise to bail people out who can’t afford to. Chama St. Louis is a community organizer in Peoria who helped found the Peoria Community Bail Fund Coalition.

She now works to help people out of a situation that she knows all too well.

“I understood the problem, I am a black woman, I grew up in a low income area, I myself have been arrested for traffic reasons and things like that, and I couldn’t pay bail,” St. Louis said. “I remember like myself being stressed out, trying to call family members and friends to see, you know how I could get the money to thought. So I understood from a personal experience.”

She and Mitchell both see the current bail system as systemically racist and systemically regressive. Campbell disagrees.

“This is a crime issue, not a race issue. We don’t believe that they’re tied together at all. And again, you’ll see consistent bail numbers coming down and saying the county courts, I know that.”

St. Louis believes her own experiences show the opposite.

“I’ve seen you know, people lose their jobs, people are unable to pay bills, and they are losing their apartments or their houses,” St. Louis said. “And then it adds the extra added pressure on family members who are maybe watching their children or taking on their other personal responsibilities while they’re away.”

It’s that vicious cycle that Mitchell says can lead to a person’s life being totally upended because of the cash bail system. It’s why he and the rest of the Coalition to End Money Bond feel there is no way the current system can ever actually be fair.

“Whether you’re talking about race, or you’re talking about poverty, or you’re just talking about fairness, or you’re talking about safety, we believe that any money bond and replacing it with a responsible alternative is the way to go,” Mitchell said.

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