Illinois became the first state to completely abolish cash bail. As a result, state lawmakers have called for an end to a practice that they say holds poor people in prison for months while awaiting trial and disproportionately affects black and Latin defendants.
The change is part of a comprehensive law signed by Governor JB Pritzker, a Democratic government on Monday. He said the legislation would transform the state’s legal system and increase accountability measures for police officers, such as requiring the use of body-part cameras in all areas of the police.
“This legislation is a significant step towards the eradication of systemic racism, which is plaguing our community, our state and our nation, and bringing us closer to true security, justice and justice.” Mr Pritzker said in a statement.
Over the years, New Jersey, California, and New York have restricted the use of bail, a system criticized by opponents as an injustice to poor people who are forced to remain in custody even though they have not been convicted on charges of arresting them. Proponents of the abolition of the cash bail drew attention to cases such as Kalief Browder, who was 16 when he was ordered on Rikers Island for three years because his family could not afford the $ 3,000 bail. Mr. Browder, accused of stealing his backpack, killed himself at the age of 22 two years after his release.
Under New Illinois law, judges will not be able to impose any bail on a defendant accused of a crime in the future, which lawmakers say makes him unique among states that reform the bail system.
For at least five years, lawmakers have been trying to pass legislation that will put an end to the practice, says state representative Kam Buckner, who is also the president of the Illinois House Legislature Black Caucasus, who advocates the law.
The murder of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis policeman held his knee around his neck for more than eight minutes, touched on a nationwide investigation into the treatment of black people and other colored people by the police and the judiciary, Mr. Buckner said.
“We have been counting very obviously and painfully over the last 12 months in this country,” he said. People “did some soul searching and realized we needed to change the business”.
According to Mr. Buckner, the legislation is the culmination of a comprehensive study of the laws and practices of other states and countries. Under the new system, judges are presented with evidence to determine what type of risk the defendant poses to the community and whether he can expect the defendant to return to court. The judge then determines whether the person should be detained until trial.
The cash bail system will only be abolished in January 2023, so it’s time for court officials to prepare for the new system, said state senator Elgie Sims, one of the authors of the law.
According to a statement from the Illinois Law Enforcement Coalition, a group representing state law enforcement officials, the new law is preventing police officers from trying their jobs. According to the coalition, political leaders have devalued some 120,000 residents of the state who have signed a petition against the law.
“This new law is a blatant move to punish an entire, respectable profession that best harms law-abiding citizens,” said the coalition, which includes police union groups as well as the Illinois Sheriffs Association and Illinois Police Chiefs.
Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs Association, said he was concerned that the abolition of cash bail would make cities less secure.
Prisons have become de facto centers for those with mental health problems and addictions, he said. “The only way to intervene is to arrest them and take them to jail, where they have the opportunity to sit in a cell and get help,” Mr Kaitschuk said.
The new law does not take into account the lack of resources for defendants who can enter the community without access to mental health or drug counseling and “pose a threat to themselves or others,” he said.
“I certainly will not sit here and confess that the system is entirely fair,” Kaitschuk said. – But we completely threw it all out.
Mr Sims, the state senator, said the law would direct people accused of low-level drug crimes to recovery programs.
“The argument that we have to shut people down to get help contradicts what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said.
Opponents of the abolition of bail have also pointed to an increase in crime in cities like New York, where the number of killings and shootings increased last year.
There is no data linking the change in the bail system to an increase in crime, said Preeti Chauhan, a professor of psychology and director of the Forensic Database at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who studied the change in the New York bail system. .
Crime has risen in dozens of U.S. cities recently, including places where there has been no bail reform, Professor Chauhan said, noting other factors influencing crime rates such as the epidemic, increased unemployment and a lack of affordable housing.
“Something bigger is happening,” she said.