Crime bill would end cash bail but could expand electronic monitoring abuses

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The omnibus crime bill that passed the Illinois general assembly in January, HB 3653, would eliminate cash bail if signed into law by Governor JB Pritzker, but civil libertarians worry the bill could lead to abuses in electronic monitoring. 

Ben Ruddell, the director of criminal justice policy at the ACLU of Illinois, said in an interview last month that the mass expansion of electronically monitored detention could be one of the unintended consequences of the bill. 

“It is occurring right now,” Ruddell said. “You know, more people who are required to be on electronic monitoring even after being released from prison while they’re on mandatory supervised release, and just the expansion of mass incarceration outside of the physical walls of prisons and jails.”

James Kilgore, a media fellow at Media Justice and author of Understanding Mass Incarceration, said that electronic monitoring is often seen as an alternative to incarceration, but in practice is incarceration in a different form. 

“If you define incarceration as deprivation of liberty, electronic monitoring deprives people of their liberty,” Kilgore said. “Particularly GPS monitoring, which is used and which is weaponized in various ways to deprive them of liberty, liberty, to access employment, housing, education at times, even impacting credit, and so forth.”

The total impact of current monitoring programs is difficult to track and analyze as guidelines for electronic monitoring vary from county to county, many counties are not keeping records of their monitoring programs, and other records may not be available even through Freedom of Information Act requests, Kilgore said.

In cases, like in pre-trial monitoring, people are put on 24-hour house arrest. They’re not allowed to work, and they’re only allowed to leave their zone in special cases like court appearances and medical appointments.

Other situations allow movement during limited hours. 

In most counties people have to pay for their monitors, which hurts the poor.  

“I mean, the people that get caught in the criminal legal system are generally, you know, well below the median income,” Kilgore said. “300, or $400 a month out of their income, that’s going to be that’s a huge chunk.”

Plus, as with any technology, the electronic monitors come with their own technical issues like poor range and miscues that have negative impacts on court decisions. 

“I’ve met with people who couldn’t even empty the garbage because it would set their monitor off to go outside and empty the trash,” Patrice James, the director of community justice at The Shriver Center for Poverty Law, said. “People won’t even know that they have violated, necessarily, until they go to court, and all of a sudden, they’re in court, and they’re like you’ve had, you know, 15 monitoring violations.”

Ruddell said some people have run into so many issues with electronic monitoring, whether technical or an inability to get food or lack of access to vital medicine, that they would have preferred to stay in jail. 

HB 3653 would make substantial changes to the electronic monitoring system. 

The bill would make some offenses ineligible for detention, require hearings where prosecutors would need to justify detention conditions, require those conditions to be reevaluated every 60 days, give credit for time served on monitoring, and guarantee a certain level of movement Ruddell said. 

“We are hoping that because there’s a process, and there is a standard, right, it’s least restrictive conditions apply,” James said. “We hope that there just won’t be these blanket EM [electronic monitoring] orders issued and then people are just left languishing on EM, with no opportunity to challenge it for months and months on time.”

Kilgore said that while the limits on electronic monitoring would be a clear benefit, it’s likely the process would still expand without rules explicitly banning the practice.  

“It sounds better than the kind of open ended reality that exists at the moment, but having said that, the way these things play out isn’t always exactly the way that the letter of the law reads”  Kilgore said. “I think there’s a good chance that the use is going to increase, and I think it’s going to also, we’re also going to see the use of more phone apps and other kinds of tracking devices.”Staff reporter Jason Flynn can be reached at jflynn@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter at @dejasonflynn. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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February 10, 2021 at 11:08AM

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