Illinois Says Goodbye to Cash Bail


Beginning Monday, September 17, people arrested for crimes in Illinois won’t have to worry about paying cash bail to be released from jail. As the first U.S. State to do so, the elimination of cash bail was met with support and opposition from those on the front line of the change.

Under the Pretrial Fairness Act, passed as an extension of the Illinois SAFE-T Act, those charged in criminal cases will not have to pay a cash amount to be released from jail as they wait for their upcoming trial. 

The long-anticipated elimination of cash bail officially takes effect Monday, following extensive delays, legal challenges, and pushback from some prosecutors and law enforcement officials who sought to keep the existing system in place.

With the Pretrial Fairness Act — a section of the Illinois SAFE-T Act passed two years ago — going into effect, those charged in criminal cases will no longer have to pay any cash in order to be released from jail while they wait for their trial. There are, however, still restrictions on those who can be free before their trial. A judge has to decide that the charged criminal is not a “willful flight risk” or a threat to public safety before they’re released, and then they won’t be asked to pay any money alongside that designation.  

Those arrested for serious or violent felonies can be remanded before their trial on that basis. The list of felonies includes: “first- and second-degree murder, predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, aggravated criminal sexual assault and criminal sexual assault, violent robberies and burglaries, residential burglary, home invasion, and vehicular invasion.”

This is a marked change from the currently upheld system, where individuals have to post a designated bail amount to reportedly ensure that they will show up for their upcoming court hearings without issue. 

Human rights and prison reform activists have been arguing for this new system. They claim that the typical procedure of cash bail unfairly punishes those based on their negative financial situation rather than any real threat they pose to the public. Senior Policy Analyst from the Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts, Brana Payton, said, “Black, Brown and poor communities are bearing the brunt of this injustice that is wealth-based incarceration.” 

The 2022 federal civil rights report revealed that courts systemically tended to place more expensive pretrial detention amounts on people who identified as Black or Latinx. Some 60% of defendants out of the 631,000 people jailed daily in the U.S. were detained before their trial because they couldn’t afford to post their bail amount.

A Cook County Public Defender explained, “The reality of the situation is that the use of money bonds is a deplorable practice. Frankly, it has very close ties to slavery. We’re putting dollar amounts on people’s freedom. We are very excited that we are moving to a new process that doesn’t ask people to buy their freedom.”

Following Monday’s change, individuals already in jail who cannot pay their cash bail can request another hearing to discuss being released after examination of their accused offense. 

RELATE CONTENT: Illinois Mayor Blasts Act to Eliminate Cash Bail and Increase Protections for Inmates

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