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Illinois Bans Cash Bail... New Plan is to Simply Release Criminals Back Into the Public

The 5-2 ruling last week by Illinois’ high court overturned a December ruling by a Kankakee County judge that determined a new state law ending cash bail, known as the SAFE-T Act, was unconstitutional. In the process, Illinois becomes the first state to abolish cash bail as a mean of pretrial release.

Opponents of the SAFE-T Act had cited studies showing that similar bail reform efforts in Illinois, including not utilizing bail in certain cases, resulted in a significant increase in violent crime. They argued that if allowed to take effect, the abolishment of bail would wreak havoc upon public safety.

In addition, despite advocates claiming that the end of cash bail would mean more fair treatment of individuals arrested for a crime and unable to “buy” their way out of jail, opponents said the opposite would occur. They cite the federal criminal justice system which ended the right to bail by sufficient sureties in 1984, replacing it with a system of preventative detention. The result? In 1983, a year before its implementation, 24 percent of defendants charged with federal crimes were held in jail pending trial. Today, that figure is a whopping 75 percent. Individuals held through preventative detention have no recourse because cash bail has been removed as an option.

There are concerns that Illinois’ new system of release and very limited detention without bail will embolden hardened recidivist criminals, as seen in New York state. While New Jersey eliminated monetary bail in 2017, it changed its constitution and spent nearly a billion dollars for prosecutors to perform detention hearings and to create a statewide system of pretrial criminal supervision, including GPS monitoring and house arrest. However, the plan for Illinois is to simply release criminal defendants, notwithstanding the criminal charges which first led to their arrest.

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