Cash bail debate amplifies in Illinois as bill heads to governor

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With Illinois set to become the only state in the nation to eliminate cash bail, those behind the legislation said it could be a model for other states.

The bail provision, known as the Pretrial Fairness Act, was one of many criminal justice reforms that were part of a sweeping justice reform bill passed by the state legislature earlier this month.

Under the Pretrial Fairness Act, a judge can still detain someone pretrial if they are charged with specific felony offenses, such as murder or domestic battery. A judge can also detain someone if they believe an individual is likely to skip court.

State Sen. Robert Peters, who sponsored the bill, said on “The Appeal” Monday that public safety will not be an issue.

“We are not going to rely on a system that brings us down, tears us down, and takes money out of our pockets for absolutely no reason but on a false pretense of safety,” he said.

Peters said there is interest in Pennsylvania about adopting similar legislation.

One of the most high-profile tests of bail reform was in New York state, where advocates had to engage in damage control. In 2019, the New York legislature abolished bail for many misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes. Soon after the law went into effect, the New York Police Department released figures showing a spike in crime and blamed the new bail rules.

“When we see anytime we try to make changes to our incarcerations system, we have to play some level of defense and make sure the implementation goes well,” Peters said.

James Black, the president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said public safety is an issue.

“The bill pretty much all but mandates the release of sex offenders, drunk drivers with numerous priors, drug dealers, irrespective of their likelihood of potentially re-offending,” Black said.

The Illinois State’s Attorneys Association criticized the legislation, as did the Illinois Law Enforcement Coalition, saying it will make Illinois “less safe.”

“There are more provisions in here that give benefits to offenders than it does to the victims of crimes,” Black said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign the bill, which would become law in January 2023 and would make Illinois the only state in the nation without a cash bail system.





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