Policymakers across the United States are now facing increased pressure to eliminate cash bail after Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker this week signed into law sweeping criminal justice reform legislation that would make his state the first to do so.
House Bill 3653, which the Democratic governor signed Monday, will end cash bail by 2023. Experts and justice advocates applauded the measure as a "historic" milestone and yet another model from Illinois that could be adopted elsewhere.
"Cash bail perpetuates inequities in justice system that are disproportionately felt by communities of color and those experiencing poverty," tweeted Anthony V. Clark, a Democrat who ran last year to represent Illinois' 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House. "All other states should follow."
U.S. Rep. Jesús "Chuy" García (D-Ill.)—who held positions in Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois state politics before entering Congress—also welcomed the development:
Illinois is now the first state in the nation to end cash bail. I applaud the efforts of advocates, legislators, and Governor Pritzker for bringing a landmark criminal justice policy to our state. https://t.co/FjUBwuciQI
— Congressman Chuy García (@RepChuyGarcia) February 23, 2021
In a joint statement, the Coalition to End Money Bond and the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice—which advocated for the Pretrial Fairness Act, the cash bail provision included in the omnibus bill passed in January—celebrated the state's step toward ending "wealth-based pretrial incarceration" as a "monumental victory."
"From Waukegan and Rockford to East St. Louis and Carbondale and everywhere in between, money bond has destabilized communities by caging people not because they pose a danger to the community but because of the size of their bank account," the joint statement said. "This destabilization has made our communities less safe, while claiming to be done in the name of 'public safety.'"
"By ending money bond, Illinois is not only creating a fairer pretrial justice system, we are striking a massive blow to the racist prison industrial complex," the groups added. "Money bond has been aptly referred to as the 'grease' that keeps the punishment bureaucracy churning. Wealth-based pretrial jailing has coerced so many of our community members into accepting plea deals they may not have if the court system had respected their right to be presumed innocent and free awaiting trial."
Over the last several years, thousands of people from across Illinois joined us in taking action to #EndMoneyBail. The Coalition to @EndMoneyBond and Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice extend our love and gratitude for everyone that helped make this victory possible. pic.twitter.com/GEfWtnPwHl
— Coalition to End Money Bond (@endmoneybond) February 22, 2021
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The measure will make Illinois the first state to end cash bail—though, as the New York Times noted, "over the years, New Jersey, California and New York have limited the use of bail, a system that opponents have criticized as unfair to poor people, who are forced to remain in detention even though they have not been convicted of the charges that led to their arrest."
The Illinois legislation, as the Chicago Tribune reports, will also "require police officers statewide to wear body cameras by 2025, eliminate requirements for signing sworn affidavits when filing complaints against officers, and create a more robust statewide system for tracking police misconduct and decertifying officers who commit wrongdoing, among a host of other changes."
The governor said during a signing ceremony at Chicago State University that opponents of the legislation—which include some state Republican lawmakers as well as police unions and leadership organizations—"don't want any change, don't believe there is injustice in the system, and are preying upon fear of change to lie and fearmonger in defense of the status quo."
ACLU of Illinois executive director Colleen Connell said in a statement that "we are excited about the important changes to policing and our criminal justice system" that are included in the measure, which "is the product of months of works and debate, hearings and discussions, conducted under the leadership of the Illinois Black Caucus."
"Reforming criminal justice and demanding meaningful police accountability are critical priorities for communities and people that are most harmed by the broken policing and criminal legal systems," said Connell, praising the caucus, Pritzker, and the bill's sponsors—Chicago Democrats Sen. Elgie Sims and Rep. Justin Slaughter.
While there is still work to do, House Bill 3653 is an important first step. We look forward to working with legislators, the Pritzker administration and all others interested in improving these systems and fostering greater trust between police and the communities they serve.
— ACLU of Illinois (@ACLUofIL) February 22, 2021
In a series of tweets Monday, Chicago's Democratic mayor, Lori Lightfoot, also recognized all the contributors to what she described as "a monumental step forward toward addressing the legacy of institutional racism in our justice system" and said that she looks forward to "working with our colleagues in Springfield and here in Chicago to get these reforms implemented and to moving ever closer to our shared goals of reform and accountability in policing."
Pritzker similarly said Monday that "this legislation marks a substantial step toward dismantling the systemic racism that plagues our communities, our state and our nation and brings us closer to true safety, true fairness and true justice. In this terrible year, in the middle of a brutal viral pandemic that hurt Black people and Brown people disproportionately, lawmakers fought to address the pandemic of systemic racism in the wake of national protests."
"This bill was also infused with solutions from individuals most directly impacted: survivors of domestic violence, survivors of crime, and those who have been detained pretrial only because they are poor," he added. "Today we advance our values in the law—progress secured despite the pandemic, because of the passion and push of the Legislative Black Caucus, activists, advocates, and residents intent on leaving a better Illinois for all our children."