In less than a month, Illinois will become the first state in the nation where those arrested for crimes will not have the option of paying cash bail.
Instead, whether someone stays in jail as they await trial will be based on a series of metrics used by judges.
Illinois lawmakers spent their last session of the year making changes to the law known as the SAFE-T Act, which Governor J.B. Pritzker has now signed into law.
The legislation had been the subject of misinformation during election season. However, there was also significant pushback on the misinformation, said Garien Gatewood, executive director of the Illinois Justice Project.
“We put on somewhere between 40 public education campaigns around the entire state to stop the spread of misinformation from stores, from local affiliates, statewide papers, you name it …” he said. “We were trying to get the good word out there, the truth about the changes.”
Come January, cash bail will be eliminated and no longer a determining factor as to who remains in jail before their trial. It is up to a judge’s discretion whether or not a person can be trusted to leave jail and return for their court date, said state Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago.
“Whether someone is a threat to someone, or a specific community … if someone is a flight risk or has a history of possibly missing court, other than that … if they don’t pose a threat to someone, they’re not a serious risk, they can go back to their life,” Peters said.
However, individuals would still need to abide by court rules, which would be determined on a case-by-case basis. This might include following a curfew, reporting to the sheriff’s office weekly or daily, or any other agreement as deemed by the judge to reduce flight risks, no-shows or further offenses.
Emmanuel Andre, an attorney at the Office of the Cook County Public Defender, believes this could be a transformative change.
“As an attorney, nothing hurts more than when you’re standing there forced to enter a plea because someone has been sitting in jail … and risks more years” Andre said.
Andre believes this could level the playing field a little bit more.
“Wealth is not the determinant factor,” he said.