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IL General Assembly Approves End to Money Bond

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Thursday, January 14, 2021   

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Illinois is set to become the first state to eliminate money bond, after the General Assembly passed a criminal-justice reform package this week and sent it to the governor's desk.

One part is the Pretrial Fairness Act. It would set up a new system for the courts to decide when someone needs to be detained before their trial, but all others would be released while they wait without having to pay bond.

Sharone Mitchell, Jr., director of the Illinois Justice Project, said advocates with the Coalition to End Money Bond have worked closely with victims' rights organizations to ensure a balance between pretrial freedom and public safety and reduce jail populations.

"There will be times in which someone will have to be detained pretrial," Mitchell explained. "But what the Pretrial Fairness Act does is that it ensures that it's not done in a two-minute hearing or one-minute hearing, it's not done based upon whether the person has a rich uncle that has $1,000 lying around; it's done in a real focused and organized way."

Legislators removed certain controversial measures from the initial proposal, after facing opposition from law-enforcement groups and prosecutors. An end to qualified immunity for police officers, originally part of the package, did not make it to the vote.

Kevin Blumenberg, mass liberation fellow at the People's Lobby, said people detained pretrial are more likely to be pressured to take a plea deal and receive a prison sentence.

He contended whether a person can afford to post bail shouldn't be the deciding factor. He was detained before his trial when he was 16 years old.

"So when we say that people are presumed to be innocent 'til proven guilty, today is the day that that has become a reality for us," Blumenberg asserted.

Mitchell pointed to a Loyola University study which found after a Cook County judge ordered bond reform in 2017, Chicago-area residents saved $31 million in a six-month timespan.

"You really can't talk about mass incarceration, and you can't talk about wrongful convictions, without talking about the things that happen at bond court," Mitchell argued. "And we are really excited to turn those things around."

Mitchell added the majority of people putting up money for bail are Black and Brown women, and ending money bond could alleviate the financial burden that people detained pretrial and their families take on.


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