Cash bail is dead as a corpse in Illinois. Chicago, America’s most dangerous city, and throughout the state of Illinois will now free scores of accused criminals who don’t have to put up a dime to be set free. The no cash bond law is now in effect.
A reporter’s mission is to report the truth, even if it means being the messenger of bad news or good news.
So what’s the good news?
No Cash Bail
The practice of cash bail has finally been abolished in Illinois State as of Monday, September 18, 2023. Illinois is the first state in the country to eliminate the practice altogether.
After a heated election cycle in which Republicans used the so-called Pretrial Fairness Act to attack Democrats as being “soft on crime,” the law’s implementation was delayed while the Illinois Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of a series of legal challenges from state attorneys and sheriffs.
In a partisan 5-2 ruling in July, the court concluded that legislator-driven bail reform was constitutional, clearing the way for a nationwide deployment of the law on this very day more than nine months after the original Jan. 1 start date.
No Cash Bond Problems
Perhaps, both sides of the ongoing argument over bail in other states will undoubtedly turn to Illinois as an example to follow or not follow. If somehow the latter takes place, nationwide cities run the risk of releasing dangerous criminals back into society if cash bail is abolished altogether, as lawbreakers have no financial incentive to show up for their court dates, critics have forewarned for years when the idea of eliminating cash bond was first discussed.
Bail Reform Advocates
Bail reform advocates were ecstatic!
On Friday’s episode of “Chicago Tonight: Black Voices,” Ahmadou Dramé, director of the Illinois Justice Project, said, “We are excited about the fact we will be moving away from that system because it has taken a toll upon primarily Black women, Brown women who have been putting up and posting bond for people to be released.”
“Moving away from that system, and moving towards one that focuses on a case-by-case assessment in those individual hearings” is critically important if we’re going to restore trust in our criminal legal system, Drame, added.
The courts still have the upper hand because judges can keep people accused of violent crimes behind bars pretrial, but first, the court officials would have to go through a more rigorous review of each case.
Cash bail opponents admit there will be some cases of pre-trial release who go on to commit more crimes. But those in favor of bail reform also cite statistics showing that the 2017 reduction in cash bail in Cook County “was not associated with any significant change in new criminal activity, violent or otherwise.”
Safety and Justice
Because of this, many who are against cash bail are optimistic that Illinois will force lawmakers in other states to do the same by eliminating cash bail. Vera Institute Vice President Insha Rahman is confident the Illinois data will show “We can have both safety and justice.” The Vera Institute is a national group working to reduce mass incarceration.
Many people have dubbed the new law “America’s most dangerous,” and police officers there have every reason to be concerned that cashless bonds may lead to a significant rise in crime while liberal advocates say that defendants should not have to sit in jail for an extended period because of cash bail.
However, the data show that doing away with monetary bail would be detrimental to more people than it would help. For example, New York City eliminated cash bail in most misdemeanor and nonviolent felonies. More than 72% of those arrested on violent felony arrests were rearrested after the bail reform was adopted, an increase of 10% of criminals re-offending.
Bail Reform and Shoplifting Gangs
These bail “reforms” have also encouraged the rise of organized shoplifting gangs whose members feel emboldened by the knowledge that the worst punishment they can expect is a slap on the wrist. These gangs steal things worth thousands of dollars and then resell them on dark web marketplaces.
The District Attorney in Yolo County, California, discovered that of the 595 persons freed in 2022 due to its zero-bail policies, 420 were re-arrested. More than 70% of those who were released from jail because they couldn’t afford bail ended up committing new crimes.
Many criminal justice experts say zero cash bail for criminals only boosts property crimes, which harms regular Americans through higher pricing, and increases violent crime, which hurts victims directly. Inflation’s already damaging impacts were amplified as a result of these matters.
Studies have shown that crime is directly linked to economic hardship. But still, minority neighborhoods suffer disproportionately as a result of rising crime rates.
Research also shows that rising crime rates disproportionately affect young people of color. Minorities in Illinois, who make up 40% of the state’s population, will feel the effects of no-cash bail in the long run. It’s glaringly interesting that this happened with a policy designed to promote “equity” and fight racism.
Nation’s Murder Capital
Chicago is often called the nation’s murder capital. Critics of the new law said the “no cash bond policy” would be more comical than Saturday Night Live if it weren’t so serious.
In court documents, the Chicago Police Union expressed disdain for cash bail. The Union argued that “less detention results in more crime, including violent crime.”
Advocates have vigorously pushed for this reform for years, arguing that it is long needed because the cash bail system unfairly punishes those who are unable to post bail and they must remain in jail while not being a threat to the public.
Bail Disparities Affect Poor Black, Brown Communities
“Black, Brown, and poor communities are bearing the brunt of this injustice that is wealth-based incarceration,” Briana Payton, a senior policy analyst with the Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts, said at a panel discussion hosted at the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
For instance, Black men were given bail amounts 35% higher than White men, and Latino men were given bail amounts 19% higher than White men, according to a study cited in a federal civil rights report on cash bail systems published in 2022.
U.S. News & World Reports published the following details: “Critics say cash bail policies are especially unfair to Black people and other people of color. A 2022 federal civil rights report on cash bail systems found that courts tend to impose higher pretrial detention penalties on Black and Latino people, citing a study that showed Black men received bail amounts 35% higher than white men, and Latino men received bail amounts 19% higher than white men.”
Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell Jr. described Illinois’ previous cash bail system as “a cousin to slavery.”
“The vast majority of people in the system are poor, and they’re Black and brown, and they have no power. It is an incredibly unfair system,” he said. “You go to a bond hearing, it sounds like a slave auction. People are talking very fast. They’re putting price tags on people’s freedom.”
Between 1970 and 2015, there was a fivefold increase in the number of people jailed before trials, according to the 2022 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report. Data shows more than 60% of defendants were detained before trial because they couldn’t afford to post bail, and that nearly 74% of the 631,000 people jailed daily in the United States are awaiting trial.
No Reason to Return to Court
Police officers have been the most vocal opponents of the change in Illinois. The Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, according to its executive director Jim Kaitschuk, is currently trying to “work through it the best we can.”
Kaitschuk added, “I think we’ll be searching for a lot of people” because defendants who don’t post bond have no reason to come back to court.
Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx Statement
Despite the “inevitability” that an inmate freed from jail without bond will commit another crime, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has stated that this is extremely unusual.
Foxx stated that keeping the vast majority of people in jail awaiting trial for a crime is sometimes unfair.
“What we wanted to make sure was that as a system, we also talked about the 98% of the people who go home, having not committed another offense, who return back, and that we have to continually emphasize that,” Foxx said during the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution Panel discussion. “Because these systems get hijacked by the things that happen rarely, and it impacts the majority.”
Zero Cash Bail and Innocent Until Proven Guilty
United States criminal law represents the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” which is essential. It shields regular people from a government that is too eager to lock up people at random in the guise of fighting crime and keeping the public secure.
To disregard the rights of the accused is irresponsible. But there is a delicate balance to be found in all things. Always strike a balance between the rights of the accused and the rights of the victims. The innocent, and especially members of minority groups, suffer as a result of no cash bond policies.
Legal Affairs Reporter C.J. Walker can be reached at [email protected]