Illinois became the first state to eliminate cash bail altogether, the result of a push by state lawmakers to end a practice they say keeps poor people in jail for months awaiting trial and affects disproportionately black and Latino defendants.
The change is part of a sweeping law signed by Governor JB Pritzker, a Democrat, on Monday. He said the legislation would transform the state’s legal system and increase police accountability measures, such as requiring the use of body-worn cameras by police departments across the state.
“This legislation marks a substantial step towards dismantling the systemic racism that plagues our communities, our state and our nation and brings us closer to real security, real fairness and real justice,” Mr Pritzker said in a statement.
Over the years, New Jersey, California and New York have limited the use of bail, a system opponents have criticized as unfair to the poor, who are forced to remain in custody even s ‘they were not found guilty of the charges that led to their arrest. Supporters of eliminating the cash bond have reported cases like that of Kalief Browder, who was 16 when he was sentenced to three years in Rikers Island detention because his family could not afford a deposit of $ 3,000. Mr Browder, accused of stealing a backpack, committed suicide two years after his release, when he was 22.
Under the new Illinois law, judges will no longer be able to set any type of bail for a felony accused, making him unique among states that have reformed the release system. on bail, according to lawmakers.
Lawmakers had tried for at least five years to pass legislation that would end the practice, according to State Representative Kam Buckner, who is also chair of the Illinois Black Legislative Caucus, which has been pushing for the law.
The murder of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on his neck for more than eight minutes, sparked a national review of the treatment of blacks and other people of color by police and the justice system , Mr Buckner said.
“We have had a very obvious and painful calculus over the past 12 months in this country,” he said. People have done “soul searching and realized that we have to change the way we do business.”
Mr Buckner said the legislation was the result of extensive research into the laws and practices in other states and countries. Under the new system, judges will be presented with evidence to determine what kind of risk a defendant’s release poses to the community and whether the defendant can be counted to return to court. A judge will then determine whether the person should be kept in detention until trial.
The cash bond system will not be abolished until January 2023, which will give court officials time to prepare for the new system, said State Senator Elgie Sims, one of the authors of the law.
The Illinois Law Enforcement Coalition, a group representing law enforcement officials across the state, said in a statement that the new law would hamper police officers trying to do their jobs. The coalition said political leaders dismissed about 120,000 state residents who signed a petition opposing the legislation.
“This new law is a blatant move to punish an entire honorable profession that will end up harming law-abiding citizens the most,” said the coalition, which represents police labor groups as well as the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association and Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.
Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, said he was concerned that removing the cash bond could make towns and villages less safe.
The prisons have become de facto centers for people with mental disorders and drug addiction, he said. “The only way to intervene is to arrest them and take them to jail, where you have the opportunity to sit in a cell and get help,” Kaitschuk said.
The new law does not take into account the lack of resources for defendants who may be released into the community without access to mental health services or addiction counseling and “pose a risk to themselves or to others. “, did he declare.
“I am certainly not going to stay here and claim that the entire system is absolutely fair,” Kaitschuk said. “But we completely threw it all in here.”
Mr Sims, the state senator, said the law would divert those accused of low-level drug crimes into recovery programs.
“The argument that we have to lock people up to help them is contrary to what we are trying to accomplish,” he said.
Opponents of eliminating the cash bond have also reported an increase in crime in cities like New York, where the number of homicides and shootings increased last year.
There is no data linking changes in the bail system to increased crime, said Preeti Chauhan, professor of psychology and director of the Data Collaborative for Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who reviewed changes to New York’s bail system. .
There has been a recent spike in crime in dozens of US cities, including places where there has been no bail reform, Professor Chauhan said, pointing to other factors. that could affect crime rates, such as the pandemic, rising unemployment and the shortage of affordable housing. .
“Something bigger is happening,” she said.