Cash bond reforms will make Illinois more fair

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A view of Cook County Jail. The Pretrial Fairness Act prioritizes safety and addresses some of the injustices that exist in our current pretrial system, a state representative writes.

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Illinois’ money bond system prioritizes access to wealth over public safety. In a matter of minutes, a judge makes the decision to jail or release a person pretrial and the primary factor determining who is released pretrial is not safety but whether or not they can afford their freedom.

I saw this first-hand when I attended bond court hearings a few weeks ago along with community advocates and other elected officials.  

The judges heard from the prosecutor about the charges, but didn’t ask for additional details or background information. It really did just come down to whether or not they could pay bail. What I saw was disappointing and only reaffirmed my support to eliminate money bond in Illinois. 

Our justice system has been unreasonable to people from Black, Brown, and low-income communities. Instead of prioritizing safety and using data to inform our pretrial policies, we have allowed fear to drive our policies and created a biased system that benefits those with financial means.

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Remaining in jail because a person is unable to afford bail to purchase their freedom can have a devastating impact on their life. It can lead to job loss and family separation. Having a person remain in jail until their trial date also makes our communities less safe because research, by the University of Georgia School of Law, shows that people who are jailed until their trial date are more likely to commit a crime after their release. 

The Pretrial Fairness Act is data-driven legislation that prioritizes safety and addresses some of the injustices that exist in our current pretrial system. I am proud to have supported this bill, which has always been about improving public safety, enhancing civil rights and elevating data-driven practices to the state level.

When safety is in question

I don’t think everyone accused of a crime should be returned to their community, especially if there is evidence that demonstrates they committed a violent crime and are a threat to someone else or that they committed a serious offense and are a flight risk. All of these concerns are addressed by the Pretrial Fairness Act, to ensure that the people who pose a serious danger to someone are detained until their trial, without the option of paying their way out of jail. This is another way the Pretrial Fairness Act keeps us safe.

Think about domestic violence survivors. Up to now, the suspected perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse have been allowed to return home — the place they allegedly committed their crime — if they are able to afford bail. After Jan. 1, domestic violence survivors will be safer because their suspected abusers can’t buy their way out of jail. While drafting the Pretrial Fairness Act, legislators and advocates worked closely with domestic violence survivors’ groups to make sure their safety was prioritized.

Our Constitution says that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and that burden of proof is left to the prosecutor. In our current pretrial system, we seem to have completely forgotten this and assumed “guilty unless bond is paid.” The Pretrial Fairness Act ensures that, per the constitution, we truly assume innocence and that money isn’t the basis for freedom. 

To detain someone accused of a crime, a prosecutor will need to prove they are a danger to another person or that they are at risk of fleeing before their trial date. If someone is released, it is because the judge determines they aren’t a danger to anyone and that they will return for their trial date. If someone who has been accused and released pretrial is arrested before their trial date, they will be jailed without the option to pay bail.

The Pretrial Fairness Act was thoughtfully crafted with the input of multiple stakeholders, including law enforcement representatives, and relies on data to create policies that will make Illinois safer and bring justice to communities that have been devastated by our pretrial system. That is why I supported and continue supporting the Pretrial Fairness Act. 

Rep. Anne Stava-Murray is a Democrat who represents the 81st District.

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September 15, 2022 at 04:21PM

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