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Illinois Lawmakers to Hear About Bail Reform

Supporters of bail reform say cash bonds favor the wealthy. (3839153/Pixabay)
Supporters of bail reform say cash bonds favor the wealthy. (3839153/Pixabay)
April 30, 2019

SPRINGFIELD, Il. — Illinois' Bail Reform Act of 2017 has been in effect for more than a year now. And lawmakers in Springfield will hear Tuesday from folks who think the law needs tinkering, and others who want more reforms.

The law was aimed at eliminating the role of money and ensuring that more people were released pretrial. However, Sharyln Grace, executive director of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, said because the measure only makes recommendations, people still are being unfairly held.

"Money bonds mean that someone who has access to wealth is free, and someone who doesn't is going to lose their liberty,” Grace said. “They are detained for days, for weeks, in many cases for months, and sometimes for many years, all without being convicted."

Some court administrators claim without a cash bail requirement, it is more difficult to collect court fees. The reforms also require that a person always be represented by a lawyer at a bail hearing, which some argue is also a cost for counties.

Both supporters and opponents of reforms are expected at the Illinois House Judiciary Committee hearing today.

House Bill 221 was introduced this session to allow counties with populations under 3 million to opt out of the new bail requirements. Grace said some are resistant to providing public defenders at bond hearings.

"They're focused on the cost to counties rather than the impact on the individuals and communities that suffer from money bond and pre-trial incarceration,” she said.

Grace explained research shows people who are represented by lawyers are more likely to be released, and thus avoid the negative consequences associated with pre-trial detention.

"People who are locked up instead of released pre-trial are more likely to be convicted and they receive longer sentences and they're also more likely to be rearrested in the future,” she said. “And that's because of that instability that's created through jailing people."

Grace said she'll testify at the hearing about the need to end cash bail and reserve pretrial detention for only the most serious cases, as well as the need for statewide collection of pretrial decision data to ensure an accurate review of the current bond system.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL