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Cash bail ends in Illinois but further reform is still a possibility

State Journal Register

Tuesday, September 19, 2023  |  Article  |  Patrick Keck

A major criminal justice reform years in the making went into effect on Monday, one that its advocates say will create a more equitable system while opponents worry about funding shortfalls.

Illinois became the first state to end cash bail. Advocates such as Springfield ACLU President Ken Page said the Pretrial Fairness Act will restore a "presumption of innocence," while the former system favored those with the financial means to make bail.

Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, said the legal system never should have been built on cash bail. Still, with many smaller counties concerned about inadequate funding to implement the changes in the law, the possibility for further reform could be possible."We will always listen to our stakeholders and try to make sure that we're implementing the law in the fairest of ways, but we will not repeal," Ammons said during a Monday press conference at the Illinois State Capitol.At a similar event in Chicago, House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch said Illinois has become a national leader of criminal justice by ending cash bail. The new system "puts victims first," he said, instead of harming the impoverished and people of color.

House Minority Leader Tony McCombie argued the contrary, saying criminals will benefit.

"The end of cash bail means the legal deck is stacked against the victim and community in favor of the criminal," she said in a statement. "This law makes it more difficult for police officers and prosecutors to keep our communities safe by ensuring offenders in most cases can walk free shortly after committing a heinous offense."

The 2022 campaign featured Republicans such as McCombie railing against the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act, signed into law in 2021 by Gov. JB Pritzker which enlisted numerous policing and pretrial reforms. Opponents said the PFA portion of the law would lead to major increases in crime.

Since shifting to a resource concern, some still worry about an increase in crime including Springfield Mayor Misty Buscher. Last week, she told WMAY her "gut feeling" was that crime would go up and told residents to take precautions to avoid theft.

Springfield Ward 3 Alderman Roy Williams called the mayor's comments the "ultimate fearmongering."

"We already before the Pretrial (Fairness Act) should be locking our doors to our cars and not putting things out in public for others to see," he said.

The new system requires courts to hold a hearing within 48 hours of an arrest. Judges can grant pretrial release or keep a person in jail if they are deemed a risk to flee or a danger to the community. People who are released still can be subject to conditions such as electronic monitoring.

The hearing requirement has some counties, particularly those downstate, concerned they lack the staff to meet demands. To account for an expected increased demand on public defenders, the state invested $10 million to create the Public Defender Fund where all counties outside of Cook County receive anywhere from $77,000 up to $147,555.

Under the previous system, cash bail was used mostly to court fines and fees. According to a 2021 Civic Federation study of 95 counties, about 60% of the $83 million in bond payments that year went to fines and fees.

Ben Ruddell, criminal justice attorney for ACLU of Illinois, noted that the change will hit county budgets but said ending cash bail was still necessary.

"This is all a process," he said. "But what we can't do is continue an unjust, unfair system that derives mass incarceration and furthers racial inequality on the basis of making sure that counties get a certain amount of money in their budget."

Implementation of the PFA was originally scheduled for the beginning of this year until the Illinois Supreme Court placed a hold as it heard questions about the PFA's constitutionality.