It looked like there might be more resistance in the Illinois state legislature, particularly since similar measures had failed to pass on five different occasions. But this week, they made good on their threat and eliminated the cash bail system entirely. The measure was quickly signed into law by the Governor. Without even a hint of irony, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced that the new system would bring Illinois a step closer to “true safety, true fairness and true justice.” The one catch is that the law doesn’t take effect until January of 2023, leaving time for challenges to the change. (NY Times)
Illinois has become the first state to completely eliminate cash bail, a result of a push by state legislators to end a practice they say keeps poor people in jail for months awaiting trial and disproportionately affects Black and Latino defendants.
The change is part of a sweeping law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, on Monday. He said the legislation would transform the state’s legal system and increase accountability measures for police officers, such as requiring the use of body-worn cameras by police departments statewide.
“This legislation marks a substantial step toward dismantling the systemic racism that plagues our communities, our state and our nation and brings us closer to true safety, true fairness and true justice,” Mr. Pritzker said in a statement.
The bill’s supporters were invoking racism and poverty during their victory lap. Oh, and George Floyd, of course. Nobody wanted to bother them with the minor detail that George Floyd had not been denied bail or let out on bail when his fateful encounter with the police took place.
Not everything in the law is terrible. They’re mandating body cameras for all police officers, which as I’ve argued here in the past, is actually a good thing for both the public and the police. But mostly, this new law contains a lot of implied, general accusations against both the police and the courts across the board.
Also unmentioned was the negative impact this will have on some suspects. Under the new system, prosecutors and defense attorneys will make their case as to whether or not the suspect presents a danger to the community or themselves, as well as an assessment as to how much of a flight risk they might be. Then the judge will make a yes-or-no decision as to whether they will be immediately released or confined until trial. Previously, someone who was only considered a minor flight risk with some assets to lose could have been put back on the streets, trusting that a significantly costly bail bond would provide the needed incentive for them to show up at trial. That will no longer be an option.
The legislators and the Governor also conveniently turned a blind eye to other cities such as New York where cash bail was significantly reduced or done away with. The year after the law went into effect, crime rates rose across the board, with particularly serious surges in homicides and shootings But why wring your hands over a little thing like that, right? The important thing is to scrap the way we’ve handled law enforcement procedures for years and hold press conferences to make it look like you’re at least doing something.