Ending Cash Bail Could Bring ‘Chaos,’ Increased Taxpayer Costs

(The Center Square) The end of cash bail in Illinois begins Sept. 18, but the debate over whether the measure will lead to better public safety continues.

As part of the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act approved in early 2021, the end of cash bail was approved with a delayed implementation date. The law has been modified several times since.

The Pretrial Fairness Act portion of the SAFE-T Act Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed was supposed to go into effect Jan. 1, but was blocked by a lawsuit brought by dozens of state’s attorneys from across the state and was later upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court.

ACLU of Illinois Director of Criminal Justice Policy Benjamin Ruddell advocates for the policy. He says people are innocent until proven guilty and shouldn’t languish in a jail awaiting trial because they can’t afford to get out. Judges will still have discretion about who should remain behind bars pending trial, he said.

“What those are are generally crimes that are classified as forcible felonies, so involving some element of violence or threatening another person,” Ruddell told The Center Square.

Outside looking in, Ken Good, an attorney and member of Professional Bondsmen of Texas, predicts things will be chaotic.

“Your criminal justice system will collapse unless they just are hiding it by dismissing cases until people decide to work together to find policies that will provide public safety,” Good told The Center Square.

In an Op-Ed, state Sen. Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport, said the 48 hours prosecutors have to make the case to hold a criminal defendant pending trial will be during a time when a crime may still be under investigation. That will require more taxpayer resources, Chesney said, to comply with a “very high bar.”

“The law is mostly silent about how weekends and holidays affect this schedule, so courts are now looking at adding Saturday and holiday hours, and additional personnel to ensure compliance,” Chesney said. “This comes at a new cost, which will undoubtedly be absorbed by taxpayers.”

The Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice said its coalition of 45 community, legal, policy and service organizations across the state are gearing up for the law’s implementation.

“Together, we are working to reduce pretrial incarceration in Illinois and, more broadly, to end mass incarceration and address the root causes of socioeconomic and racial inequity in our legal system,” the group said in a statement.

Good said Illinois’ policy could lead to many criminal defendants not showing up for hearing dates.

“They have to commit another crime to come back into the system so you’re going to have people not show up for court and you don’t have the manpower or the people to do anything about it,” Good said.

Ruddell downplayed those concerns.

“No reputable study has ever shown that money bond increases rates of appearing in court,” he said.

The Illinois Supreme Court recently announced the allowance of pretrial hearings to be conducted remotely when necessary.