Listen to this article here
Sign-Up for a free subscription to The Black Wall Street Times‘ daily newsletter, Black Editors’ Edition (BEE) – our curated news selections & opinions by us for you.
A new law ending cash bail in the state of Illinois will take effect on January 1, 2023. The state’s Democratic Governor, J.B. Pritzker, called it “a step toward dismantling systemic racism.”
Last year, lawmakers passed the SAFE-T Act, a set of sweeping reforms to the state’s criminal justice system. One of the provisions that survived Republican opposition includes eliminating cash bail.
“The use of money as a determining factor in whether somebody is going to be in or out of jail before trial is really just an abhorrent practice,” said Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell, per ABC News.
While other cities have drastically reduced their reliance on cash bail, no other state has gone as far as Illinois, and the law’s impact will surely be watched by those who support and oppose the measure.
Cash bail ending in Illinois
The practice of requiring pre-trial detainees to pay a fee for freedom disproportionately impacts low-income, Black and Latino/x communities. Critics of cash bail say it creates two separate systems of justice in which those without financial resources are forced to toil in local jails for days, weeks, months and sometimes even years, despite not being found guilty of a crime.
Between 1975 and 2015, the number of people who were detained pre-trial increased by 433%, according to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which cites that more than 60% of Americans in U.S. jails are eligible for release but can’t afford to pay bail.
Yet some are worried that ending cash bail would create more problems than it solves.
“We have a responsibility under the Constitution as lawmakers to keep people safe,” said Illinois state Rep. Jim Durkin, the House GOP leader. “There are some people who are a threat to society who should be detained at trial. Move slowly. Don’t take this national progressive approach.”
Despite the fact that shootings and homicides are down in Chicago compared to last year, many are worried ending cash bail will lead to an explosion of crime.
Yet critics of the measure fail to account for the rising number of pre-trial deaths in U.S. jails.
Deaths in U.S. jails rise
??From 2000 to 2019, jail deaths per capita increased by 11 percent, to 167 per 100,000, according to a New York Times report, which cited Justice Department data.
Essentially, U.S. jails have become a death sentence for many people, whether their alleged crime was a felony or misdemeanor. And the pain isn’t felt equally.
The numbers are morbidly close, despite New York City having a population more than 10 times larger than Oklahoma City’s, and despite Riker’s Island having a jail capacity roughly five times larger than that of Oklahoma County Jail.
In the case of Illinois’ new law, judges will have discretion over who should be detained before a trial as long as the defendant has committed a forcible felony or if the defendant “poses a specific, real and present threat to a person, or has a high likelihood of flight.”