Advocates prepare to defend elimination of cash bail, before it even arrives
Nearly a year before cash bail is set to end in Illinois, supporters of the Pretrial Fairness Act in Bloomington-Normal are bracing to fight for its existence.
The law, signed by Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker nearly a year ago, ends bail as part of a larger reform package known as the SAFE-T Act. It replaces it with a system aimed at incarcerating only dangerous criminals and real flight risks.
It ends what supporters call “wealth-based jailing,” where many suspects are jailed ahead of trial not because of the severity of the crime, but simply because they don’t have enough money to post bond.
But speaking via Zoom to a group of about 20 community members Saturday, Briana Payton, a policy analyst with the Chicago Community Bond Fund, said some want to stop it before it starts.
Law enforcement and many prosecutors oppose ending bail. They worry it will let dangerous criminals run free and encourage suspects to skip court appearances. Many conservative legislators, too, are against it, and some have called for it to be repealed.
Some candidates even blame recent crime on the law, though it hasn’t taken effect, Payton said.
“It honestly blows my mind what some people are willing to say,” she said.
But it’s not just Republicans. Pressure from constituents about crime has even some one-time supporters of the concept changing their tune.
“The political climate looks very different right now. People who were yelling ‘Black Lives Matter’ a year and a half ago are now, like, saying something totally different,” Payton said.
But Saturday’s group, which was assembled by YWCA McLean County, Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal, Not in Our Town Bloomington-Normal and other civil rights organizations, were still supportive.
Olivia Butts, a local BLM leader, said incarceration hampers defense efforts, and can cause someone who can’t afford bail to lose the job they do have, as well as housing and even custody of children. Further, she said bail isn’t a great indicator of whether someone will miss court.
She said 82% of McLean County jail inmates were pre-trial.
Payton said supporters need to take every opportunity to advocate, both in public and with legislators who may be getting pressure, to make sure the pressure stays on.
Dr. Carla Campbell-Jackson of the Bloomington-Normal NAACP branch said, “We know humanity has to be what leads and guides us. And if people don’t want to do the right thing for others, then we need to continue to galvanize, to make them do the right thing.”
The SAFE-T Act will end cash bail in Illinois in favor of a yet-to-be-determined pretrial detention system that prioritizes risk over a person’s ability to make bail. The state’s courts are to create an administrative code outlining the new pretrial detention system by January 2023.