Illinois Becomes First US State to Eliminate Cash Bail

Illinois will become the first state in the US to entirely eliminate the use of cash bail. Cash bail requires defendants to pay a fee to secure their release before trial, and critics argue that it disproportionately affects poor communities. The new policy in Illinois will replace cash bail with a hearing before a judge to determine if the defendant poses a flight risk or a threat to public safety.

The use of cash bail in the US has resulted in a high incarceration rate, with approximately 427,000 people held in pretrial detention, 80% of whom have not been convicted. Data from 2002 shows that black and Latino people make up 63% of the pretrial detention population, despite comprising only a quarter of the US population.

Illinois’ move to eliminate cash bail comes after a legal battle that went all the way to the state’s Supreme Court. The impact of this policy change will be closely watched, as it comes during an election cycle where criminal justice reform has been a contentious issue. Similar efforts to reform the cash bail system have faced criticism and resistance in other jurisdictions, with opponents arguing that releasing defendants without requiring bail could lead to increased crime rates and endanger public safety.

Proponents of bail reform argue that the use of cash bail disproportionately impacts marginalized communities and criminalizes poverty. They argue that removing the financial barrier to pretrial release will result in fairer outcomes, as a defendant’s ability to pay should not determine their risk to society. Additionally, pretrial detention can lead to negative consequences for defendants, such as pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit, housing or employment discrimination, and harsher penalties for future criminal infractions.

While there have been concerns about the potential risks of eliminating cash bail, studies in New York, where similar reforms have been implemented, have shown negligible effects on crime rates and a decline in recidivism. Illinois’ decision to eliminate cash bail reflects a growing recognition of the need for criminal justice reforms that prioritize fairness and equity.