Illinois becomes first state to eliminate cash bail as Pre-Trial Fairness Act takes effect

Pre-Trial Fairness Act is part of the SAFE-T Act

Monday, September 18, 2023
Illinois law ending cash bail takes effect
The issue has been controversial, with some celebrating ending cash bail, with others saying it will cause harm.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Pre-Trial Fairness Act, part of the SAFE-T Act that eliminates cash bail, goes into effect Monday morning.

Some are celebrating it as a victory, while others said it will cause great harm.

Local county and state elected officials along with several advocacy groups gathered Monday morning on the steps of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse to celebrate the end of cash bail in Illinois.

"So today in Illinois, we mark where people will be able to keep their jobs, stay in their homes, maintain custody of their children while they await their trial," Tanya Watkins with Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation said.

The elimination of cash bail which takes effect Monday, comes after extensive delays and legal challenges. Some prosecutors and law enforcement leaders believe it will place more criminals back on the streets.

Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow was a staunch opponent.

"We feel very strongly that it is a serious public safety issue," Glasgow said. "At the same time, we want to join in the fight toward reforming bail."

Before Monday, a judge was able to set bail as a means of ensuring a defendant would show up for court hearings.

The Better Government Association takes a closer look at Illinois' SAFE-T Act.

For over a decade, dozens of organizations and reform advocates have pushed to reform the system, so people don't have to experience what Shannon Ross did when he was arrested in Chicago for weapons charges a few years ago.

"My bond was $75,000; $7,500 to walk," Ross said.

Because Ross didn't have the money to bond out, he was forced to stay in the Cook County jail for four and a half months for a crime he didn't commit. Ross was eventually found not guilty.

Under the new system, if a prosecutor believes someone poses a risk to the community, they bring that before a judge, and the judge makes the determination whether someone should stay in custody or be released.

"What is so fearful of having a system that is fair and just? What is so disarming about making sure people are not detained because they are poor," said Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx. "I can assure you that the Cook County States Attorneys Office, stands ready to implement the Pre-Trial Fairness Act."

People arrested for violent crimes are likely to be detained by a judge, which is exactly what advocates for sexual assault victims say should happen. The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation supports the new system over the old one.

"Our now-former system, which I'm very excited to say, didn't make survivor safe," Madeleine Behr with the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation said. ""People could get out of jail simply because they had the money to pay, not on whether they were a danger to the survivor or the public."

Leaders Monday morning said Illinois now becomes a national leader in criminal justice reform.

"As we look forward, we're focused on effective equitable and sustainable solutions that address the root causes of crime and violence not just now but for future generations," Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in a statement, "The full implementation of the Pretrial Fairness Act and the end of money bond is a critical milestone on the path toward economic and racial justice in Cook County and Illinois. This important reform is long overdue. Today, we finally end the harmful practice of wealth-based pretrial incarceration and welcome a new system that centers community safety to better guarantee equal justice for all.

"In the last ten years, Cook County has made significant progress in addressing mass incarceration and advancing pretrial fairness. We safely decreased the population of Cook County jail, limited the use of money bonds and increased investments that support residents and communities most impacted by crime, violence and incarceration. The implementation of the Pretrial Fairness Act is the next step on this journey.

"I am immensely proud of the intentional collaboration that has brought us to this day. I stand in solidarity and support of our court system stakeholders and system impacted residents and communities as we implement the new court procedures and move into this new phase of increased pretrial fairness."

While some strongly support the Pretrial Fairness Act, there is fear among other prosecutors and members of law enforcement that crime will increase without cash bail.

"If I arrest somebody for retail theft in the morning, are they going to come back in the afternoon otherwise? They may have been held for that time period. So, what is going to be impact on the community?" said Illinois Sheriff's Association Executive Director Jim Kaitschuk.

House Republican Leader Tony McCombie released a statement saying, "The end of cash bail means the legal deck is stacked against the victim and community in favor of the criminal. 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. Ending cash bail has produced harmful results in other cities and states, and we have no reason to believe Illinois will be any different. We can only hope that innocent victims' lives are not the ultimate price we have to pay."

While Illinois is the only state to completely eliminate cash bail, New Jersey has a law very close to it. Advocates said neither crime nor failure to appear in court have gone up in New Jersey.