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State Lawmakers Must Pass Bail Reform Now

Cash bail punishes the poor, keeps jails overcrowded, and destabilizes people and communities. Illinois just passed a bill to end it; other states should follow suit. 

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – APRIL 09: A fence surrounds the Cook County jail complex on April 09, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. With nearly 400 cases of COVID-19 having been diagnosed among the inmates and employees, the jail is nation’s largest-known source of coronavirus infections. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Point

Cash bail punishes the poor, keeps jails overcrowded, and destabilizes people and communities. Illinois just passed a bill to end it; other states should follow suit.  

Illinois has created a blueprint for other states seeking to end cash bail: 

  • The roadmap to bail reform, according to Illinois Representative Justin Slaughter, involves both “prework” and “postwork.” And Sharone Mitchell, director of Illinois Justice Project, recently explained that the goal should not just be to end cash bail, but to ensure that no one is held in jail who does not need to be there.
  • Supporters of reform need to ensure that the public education work is done to help reform succeed. In Illinois, a five-year process led by the Coalition to End Money Bond,  included Days of Action and lobbying days; a retreat for lawmakers to share scholarship, data, and research; and subject-matter committee hearings, featuring testimony by advocates and experts about the importance of reform and the harms of the current system.
  • Legislation needs to focus not just on ending the current system but on what the new one will look like. As Mitchell detailed, the Illinois bill does three things: ends the use of cash bail, establishes meaningful protections against unnecessary pretrial incarceration, and requires the collection of data to determine whether the new law is actually working. 
  • Supporters must be prepared to defend against expected attempts to challenge or roll back the reforms, like those in New York and California. Substantial engagement with advocates and impacted communities, a long implementation period, and a coordinated broader public education campaign are critical to solidifying these changes. 

Cash bail makes communities less safe and informed communities support ending it:

  • Across the country, the decision to hold a person in jail before trial is usually made in a matter of minutes. Now, in Illinois, the presumption is in favor of release and “there are going to be robust, meaningful, adversarial hearings before somebody’s liberty is taken away,” Sharlyn Grace, executive director of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, explained
  • The work done in Illinois worked. Polling shortly before the legislature voted on the bill showed that 57% of Illinois voters supported the creation of a presumption of pretrial release for most people; only 29% opposed it. 
  • Opponents to reform generally argue that cash bail keeps communities safe by locking up dangerous people. But, as long as someone has the money to pay the bond, they will be released. Cash bail means people stay incarcerated because they are poor, not because they are dangerous. 
  • There is no evidence that eliminating cash bail makes the public less safe. In fact, several studies have found no increases in crime rates after a decrease in the use of cash bail. Instead, research shows that pretrial detention can make it more likely someone becomes involved with the criminal legal system in the future.

Dive Deeper

  • How Illinois Won the Fight to End Cash Bail. State Sen. Robert Peters, State Rep. Justin Slaughter, Sharlyn Grace of Chicago Community Bond Fund and Sharone Mitchell of Illinois Justice Project join The Appeal Live to talk about their successful effort to abolish cash bail.
  • Illinois State Lawmakers Vote to Eliminate Cash Bail. The move is part of a broader criminal justice reform bill that also ends prison gerrymandering, and mandates body cameras for all police departments. 
  • Days Before Critical Vote, Illinois Voters Back Pretrial Release. When informed that other jurisdictions have safely reduced jail populations through bail reform, 57% of Illinois voters support reforming the cash bail system and creating a presumption of pretrial release for most people, while only 29% oppose.