Illinois becomes the first state to abolish cash bail entirely. Born from the SAFE-T Act, the state Supreme Court's ruling in July declared the law to be constitutional, setting the stage for today's sweeping change. Governor JB Pritzker celebrated the decision as a crucial step toward a more equitable and just system in the state of Illinois and beyond.
The push to eliminate cash bail has been driven by those who argue that the practice disproportionately impacts minorities and economically disadvantaged individuals. With its elimination, nonviolent offenders are less likely to be kept in jail over petty offenses simply because they are unable to afford bail. Instead, a more nuanced approach will be taken, with individuals being released based on the nature and severity of their alleged crimes.
"We are finally creating a system that is based on justice and not on money," Democratic state lawmaker and attorney Kam Buckner told FOX 32. "We’re finally creating a system that is based on what you did and not what you have."
As outlined by the Chicago Sun-Times, those charged with low-level offenses will likely never face time in a jail cell. Police will instead issue citations and court dates, with the possibility of release on probation in the case of convictions. The justice system will still take into account the need for public safety and personal risk factors, and law enforcement agencies will retain discretion in deciding whether an individual should be taken into custody.
The new system also covers more serious misdemeanors and felony charges. For Class A misdemeanor offenses, which include shoplifting, simple battery, trespassing, and similar offenses, individuals will be arrested and booked but should still be released with a court date, avoiding jail in most cases. Felony cases follow a similar pattern, with those who qualify being released under various conditions ranging from electronic monitoring to drug testing. A person charged with a detainable offense, such as murder or a sex crime, will appear before a judge within 24 hours for a detention hearing.
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson applauded the high court's decision, stating, "Cash bail does not make communities safer, and it never has; it has simply exacerbated existing inequities and disparities in the criminal legal system. Pretrial detention, as a result of the inability to pay bail, further decimates communities that have long been most impacted by mass incarceration."