New bill could eliminate the cash bail system in Illinois, among other reforms

A new Illinois bill, titled HB 3653, was recently passed by the Illinois General Assembly. It aims to reform the criminal justice system by abolishing cash bail by 2023 — through the Pretrial Fairness Act — among other changes. It is now up to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to sign it into law. 


With these changes in effect, court judges would be unable to detain most people. According to the bill, “detention only shall be imposed when it is determined that the defendant poses a danger to a specific, identifiable person or persons, or has a high likelihood of willful flight.” 


This aspect of the bill is intended to combat discrimination.


“The cash bail system has consistently been shown to create a disadvantage for those in the lower class economically, and being detained prior to trial has consistently been shown to increase the likelihood of being convicted of whatever offense you’re charged with — and then if you are convicted, it increases the likelihood that you are going to be incarcerated,” Criminal Justice Professor Kevin Cannon said. 


Opponents of the bill have said safety issues may arise from fewer being detained. Cannon said evidence doesn’t point to that. 


“There have been plenty of studies that have shown that a person who is awaiting trial does not have a great likelihood of committing another offense before that trial, so the need to incarcerate them may not be there,” Cannon said. 


If the bill is signed by Pritzker, Illinois will be the second state to have passed reform at this level, following in the footsteps of New Jersey. After reform passed in 2017, New Jersey has seen a 20 percent decrease in its jail population. 


Social Work Professor Jennifer Erwin said this may be one of the first few steps of reform across the nation. 


“I think the more data we get that shows [passing reform does not lead to an increase in crime and people not showing up to court dates] the more likely other states are going to be to follow along — if the data shows that … From the data we have right now from the places that have done it, it’s promising,” Erwin said. 


Other changes brought along by the bill are restrictions to violent police behavior like chokeholds, requiring police to wear body cameras, the ban of the purchase of certain types of military equipment by police departments and more rights for those detained. 


This new bill comes in the wake of this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. According to Assistant Sociology Professor Ezra Temko, the bill wouldn’t have happened without them.


“People might ask about ‘why did this happen now?’ I would just say that this is part of the context of the Black Lives Matter protests from this past summer, and this attention to racial justice that creates a more permeable status quo in terms of people being able to act and move forward with policies that in other environments may struggle a little bit more,” Temko said. 

Those interested in all the potential changes caused by the bill can read it on the Illinois General Assembly website.

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