BY ANTHONY WALRAVEN, Change Peoria
Every year in the State of Illinois, over a quarter of a million people pass through the 92 jails in the 102 counties of our state, and 90% of those people are detained pre-trial, most of those due to an inability to pay a cash bond. We pride ourselves on the presumption of innocence in this country. People are innocent until they are proven guilty, yet in our state, tens of thousands of people sit in jails, not convicted of any crime but simply because they are poor.
Not only will those people sit in jail prior to their trial, but they will become even more likely to remain there afterwards. An April 2019 report by the Vera Institute of Justice analyzed multiple studies and found that people detained pretrial for more than a few days had, in many cases, an almost 25% greater chance of being convicted than those who were able to post bond.
Even worse are the deep and awful socioeconomic costs of pretrial incarceration. Stay in jail for a few days trying to gather up enough money to post bond? You’ve likely lost your job. Stay a couple of weeks? If you have children, they are now in danger. Stay a month or two? You’ve lost access to any kind of assistance you have such as Medicaid or SSI. When we combine that with the way our criminal justice system falls hardest on people of color and women, what we have is a system that penalizes the poor and marginalized for their poverty.
In Illinois, however, we do have an example of what it would look like if we simply let more people leave jail without having to pay bonds. In September 2017, in order to stave off a pending lawsuit against it, the Cook County Circuit Court under Chief Judge Tim Evans issued General Order 18.8A which instructed judges to set bonds that the defendant could financially be able to pay within 48 hours.
Since then, the results that have come out of Chicago are promising. A report commissioned in May 2019 by the Cook County Circuit Court found that the population of the Cook County Jail has dropped by over 20% while the number of people being released on I-Bonds (which do not require cash) has nearly doubled and went up by even higher percentages amongst people of color. In that same time, by utilizing services like texting reminders and providing transportation, the rate at which defendants have shown up at their court dates has remained the same. In addition to that, just 0.6% of the people released were arrested and accused of a new violent offense.
There is hope for the rest of the state now. With Governor JB Pritzker now calling for an end to cash bond, a bill will be in the General Assembly this year. The Pre-Trial Fairness Act would end pre-trial detention for non-violent offenses, set up a hearing system for pre-trial detention for all other offenses and make counties keep track of bond decisions and data to ensure equal application of the law.
Cash bond doesn’t keep us safer; it doesn’t help our system run more smoothly, and it hurts people simply because they are poor or marginalized. It’s time to end cash bond in Illinois. If you would like to help in this effort, reach out! Anthonywalraven@gmail.com