While the nation’s attention was focused on the transition of power in Washington, Illinois state lawmakers last week passed a massive criminal justice reform bill that would, among other things, end cash bail.
The bill came in response to the police killing of George Floyd and others last year, which sparked a wave of protests across the country calling for criminal justice reform.
Should it go into law, almost everyone in jail would be released while awaiting trial unless prosecutors could convince a judge that the defendant is a threat to public safety. In such cases, the accused would remain in jail without the opportunity for cash bail.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who has been accused of being too soft on criminals, has praised the idea of ending cash bail.
“Cash bail was never about public safety,” said Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. “For far too many people, their assessment was based not on their risk but on the amount that they could afford to pay … so eliminating cash bail makes this about risk and not about poverty.”
But others have warned that ending cash bail would do more harm than good. Ahead of the bill’s passage, the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Association released a statement arguing that the elimination of cash bail would “not only exacerbate this problem but would also put the victims of crime and their families at great risk.”
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The Association noted that since the passage of a similar law, the Bail Reform Act of 2017, the state has “seen a substantial increase in defendants deciding to ignore the courts and simply not appear in court as ordered, thus avoiding responsibility.”
This phenomenon played out in New York last summer as a result of state lawmakers passing sweeping changes to the state’s bail law, limiting the number of crimes for which judges could set bail. Almost everyone – about 90% of the state’s arrests – could walk out of jail after being processed.
In early June, when protests against police were gaining momentum, hundreds of looters and rioters arrested by the New York Police Department in the span of a few days were released from custody without bail.
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But for Illinois’ criminal justice reform bill to become law, it will require the signature of Gov. J.B. Pritzker. The Democratic governor has not said he would approve it, but praised the measure shortly after its passage last week.
“I have long held that an essential mark of good governance is a willingness to change the laws that have failed the people of Illinois,” Pritzker said. “This criminal justice package carries with it the opportunity to shape our state into a lesson in true justice for the nation.”
Fox News’ Barnini Chakraborty contributed to this report.