Illinois was set to become the first state to eliminate any form of cash bail as a requirement for pre-trial release when the Illinois Supreme Court hit the pause button on New Year’s Eve.
The decision to delay implementation of the law follows a ruling several days earlier by a Kanakee County judge deeming the new unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruling allows all 102 counties to follow the same rules until a determination by the state’s high court. There’s a great deal to be said about no-cash bail. For opponents of the idea, removing a requirement that a person pay to be released will lead to chaos in the courts and ongoing criminal conduct by dangerous criminals who should be behind bars. Advocates for the bill point to the harm done to poor individuals who risk losing jobs, housing and their reputations while they are locked up, accused but not convicted of a crime.
This week I joined several colleagues who have followed the controversy surrounding the Safe-T-Act and its no-cash bail provisions under the Pretrial Fairness Act for a discussion on NPR’s The 21st. Host Brian Mackey also talked with a prosecutor and public defender who expressed their opposing views on the elimination of money bond.
Here’s a link to our conversation:
The Supreme Court has ordered an expedited process for the appeal, meaning a decision will come sooner than most but still not expected until after arguments in April. Advocates for and against the bill agree that implementation of any version will come with growing pains as police, courts, defense lawyers and prosecutors — along with the accused– adjust to a system that allows more people to remain free pending the outcome of their cases. Last minute changes approved by lawmakers will not be the last. Appeals by unsatisfied players will follow as the courts interpret the voluminous provisions of the law.
The discussion on no-cash bail is part of a nationwide conversation focusing on criminal justice reform. As a country that stands alone among developed nations in its history of mass incarceration, the United States is seeing a shift away from jail and prison as a solution to crime. Granted the number of prosecutors who are taking a serious look at community-based resources and restorative justice measures is small, but seismic change often begins with a slow tremor, deep beneath the surface.
Jurisdictions across the country are watching what takes place in Illinois.