ILLINOIS (IRN) — State lawmakers are considering changes to the state’s criminal justice system, including a proposal to end cash bail in Illinois.
At a hearing of the Special Committee on Public Safety this week, legislators heard from several officials about how to improve the justice system.
Illinois Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton said the governor’s office would like to end the practice of requiring people to post cash bail. She said many people remain in jail after being accused of petty crimes because they can’t afford bail.
“You see for many families, $1,000 or even $100 in bond might as well equal $1 million dollars,” Stratton said. “Does the cash bail system protect public safety or does it protect wealth?”
Brittany Williams, a 29-year-old mother of three from Chicago, said her life was turned upside down in October 2017 when her husband was arrested on a traffic charge. His bail was set at $100,000, meaning he needed to pay 10 percent, or $10,000, to be released.
“This experience was traumatic because it took time away from my newborn and it caused me to get back to work before I was even ready,” Williams said.
Advocates for ending cash bail have said that the practice has a disproportionate impact on the poor. Those unable to post money to be released from jail while awaiting trial risk losing employment and rental housing and face greater pressure to accept unfavorable plea deals, according to a 2018 study.
Law enforcement groups spoke in opposition to ending the cash bail system in Illinois.
DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin, representing the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association, said prosecutors across the state have concerns about the proposal.
“The biggest issue that prosecutors see with the current bail system is we all have stories of violent offenders who get out on bond and then commit violent offenses,” Berlin said.
McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim asked committee members to consider the victims of crime.
“When they are violated in their homes or in public by predatory neighbors, what will they think when that same predator walks by a free man later that same day?” Prim said.
The hearing included members of two Senate committees and one House committee that will address criminal justice reform issues during the legislative session.
Other topics discussed at the hearing included reducing mandatory minimum sentences and the need for more education, job training, and substance abuse treatment behind bars.