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The Debate About Cash Bail in Illinois

In January 2022, Illinois was set to become the first state in the U.S. altogether cancel cash bail to reform its bail system and advance its justice system. In 2021, Illinois lawmakers passed the SAFE-T Act with significant changes to pretrial determinants agreements, including cash bail. The reform makes the presumption of bail the default, removing the financial requirements in the bail decision. This law went into effect on January 1, 2023, meaning there is no cash bail in Illinois today.

The proponents suggest cash bail as “an abhorrent practice” due to the consideration of justice. Reports show more than 60% of U.S. defendants are eligible for bail yet remain jailed before trial by failing to pay the cash. The long days before trial are crucial for each defendant’s life. In the months before trial, custody may reshape or destroy one’s job, relationship, and family. Lavette Mayes, a mother of 2 children in Chicago, claimed she had lost everything in the 571 days of custody before trial due to her failure to afford the $25,000 bail. In the eyes of the proponents, the reform is preventing the violation of the golden thread in the justice system--the presumption of innocence. Setting the assumption of release default presumes the defendants are innocent before approved conviction unless the judge receives substantial grounds and evidence to prove the defendants may threaten society. Besides the general rules of law, this reform also advances racial justice. The number of remanded has been increasing since 1970 due to the inability to pay bail, primarily for low-level charges and disproportionately for people of color. Therefore, the SAFE-T Act is an act to advance rules of law and racial justice.

Lavette Mayes

On the other hand, the opponents of the reform question the safety of society after the elimination of cash bail, such as a higher rate of offenses for home monitoring defendants. Nonetheless, it lacks rigorous arguments to prove cash bail ensures safety, and the reform risks it. To some extent, cash bail merely shows trust to those economically capable of bail, which may be considered unjust for people experiencing poverty. Besides, after the reform, the judge will be burdened to provide judgments for the defendant’s reliability. Confronting the query, opponents further argue how the reform will overwhelm the legal infrastructure. It adds the responsibility and burden to the judge to process the detainees. Moreover, it may delay the trial process if the defendants fail to show up on time; that is why cash bail comes into place, where cash acts as collateral.

To sum up, Illinois is the first state in the U.S. to eliminate cash bail with an attempt to advance legal justice. Being the first state, all the other states are watching closely at the effectiveness of the reform. However, the reform could be better regarding the unsolved safety challenges from the opponents.

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