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Call for Bail Reform Across Illinois

The People's Lobby is calling on federal lawmakers to implement a fair bail system. (Tom Gaulke)
The People's Lobby is calling on federal lawmakers to implement a fair bail system. (Tom Gaulke)
September 20, 2017

CHICAGO – Now that a judge in Cook County has ruled that a court can't set bail amounts that people can't afford, advocates want that order implemented across the state, and they're calling for federal lawmakers to do the same.

In an attempt to reduce jail population, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans issued a general order to judges, telling them to set a bail amount that is affordable.

Ibie Hart, chair of the Mass Incarceration Task Force, says there are more than 4,000 people in Cook County’s jail who have been ordered released but remain in custody because they lack access to the money needed to pay their bonds.

"We really want that to be implemented,” Hart states. “We want judges to abide by that in order to give people a chance to be seen as humans and living their lives while they await their trial."

Evans' order comes after a recent federal court decision in Houston that found incarcerating people before their trials solely because they cannot afford to pay bond violates both the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

John Powe, leader of The People's Lobby, worries judges won't easily agree to switching to a non-monetary bail system, and says high bail amounts impact mostly poor people. He says the court system isn't living up to the legal principle of "innocent until proven guilty."

"Just to be, in some cases, proven to be innocent in the end,” he states. “In the meantime, they've lost their job, they're separated from their kids. You know, it's just unacceptable."

There have been recent court rule changes in other states, including New Jersey, where there's been a 36 percent drop in the jail population. Between Jan. 1 and May 31 of this year, judges in that state imposed monetary bail only nine times.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IL