The long-standing practice of holding people in prison and jail who can’t afford to pay their bail is due to end in Illinois, making it the first state to completely end a system of wealth-based freedom that has not only disproportionately affected low-income populations but also communities of color, reports NBC News.
The Illinois Pretrial Fairness Act passed the state legislature last month and is expected to be signed into law by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker in the coming weeks. The act abolishes the cash bond system and aims to end mass pretrial incarceration, though it would not go into effect until 2023. Nearly half a million people detained in locally run jails across the country were held in pretrial status, according to 2016 data from the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit research and policy organization that supports pretrial reforms.
“In large urban areas, Black felony defendants are over 25 percent more likely than white defendants to be held pretrial,” the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, reported in 2019. Research also suggests that Black and brown defendants’ bail amounts are twice as high white defendants’ bail, even though they are less likely to be able to afford it, the organization reported.
In Chicago, where a large portion of the Illinois prison population resides, a 2020 study by researchers at Loyola University Chicago found that bail reform efforts in Cook County since 2017 have had no impact on new criminal activity or new violent criminal activity by those defendants released pretrial. The study found that the avoided bond costs saved people more than $31.4 million in the six months after bail reform was implemented.
In addition to ending money bail, the act creates clear standards for due process built around the idea that if a person is going to be in jail, they are there because under the act’s strict definition they were a specific, real and present threat to any person or persons or they were a risk of willful flight, and not for any other reason. The standards re-evaluate the entire bond statute, resolving issues that would force people into incarceration, such as the use of risk assessments, warrant regulation and electronic monitoring. The measures could potentially be used in other states.
The Loyola study has been the subject of some recent debate.
“A recent report confirms, however inadvertently, that Cook County’s controversial limits on the use of cash bail caused more crime on the streets of Chicago and resulted in fewer defendants showing up in court,” according to City Journal.
A close look at the analysis from Loyola University’s Don Stemen and David Olson—though it purports to show the opposite—”seems to make clear that bail-reform skeptics were right to worry about how policies like Chicago’s would affect public safety and criminal justice,” said the story.
Stemen and Olson found that, controlling for various factors, bail changes led to the release of roughly 500 defendants who would otherwise have been detained. They also estimated that, both before and after reform, roughly 17 percent of released offenders committed a new crime, including 3 percent who committed a violent offense.
Because there was no statistically significant increase after the order, they conclude that bail reform “had no effect on new criminal activity or crime,” said the article.