Bail reforms are still the right move – Chicago Sun-Times

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The Illinois Supreme Court has decided to temporarily halt statewide implementation of the controversial new law ending cash bail, and we hope the court now moves swiftly to decide the matter.

Kankakee County Chief Judge Thomas W. Cunnington ruled last week that the section of the SAFE-T Act abolishing cash bail is unconstitutional. That prompted Attorney General Kwame Raoul to appeal the ruling on Friday to the state Supreme Court, which will now set a schedule for briefs and arguments on the appeal.

Prosecutors and sheriffs from 64 counties, including Will and McHenry, initially filed suit against the law.

Those prosecutors and sheriffs oppose the abolition of the cash bail system altogether, a sentiment shared by other Illinoisans. Some opponents have honest concerns about the impact of bail reform on public safety, while other are simply swayed against it by misinformation or scare tactics.

While the court decides the matter, it’s important to remember these key points:

For one, even with bail reform, judges retain the power to keep defendants in custody if they meet the criteria for being a flight risk or a danger to the community. And legislators recently took a smart step by amending the law to address critics’ concerns, including, among other changes, an expanded list of offenses for which suspects can be held in custody while awaiting trial.

(The Civic Federation has a comprehensive summary of SAFE-T Act amendments.)

In municipalities where cash bail reform has already been in place, including in Cook County, rates of pretrial re-arrests remain unchanged, according to an analysis released in September by the Center for American Progress. In fact, after bail reform was implemented in New Mexico and Yakima County, Washington, an even larger percentage of people completed the pretrial process without a new arrest.

Overall, “those who await their trial in the community are no more likely to be re-arrested after bail reform was passed than before,” the analysis stated. “Put simply, releasing more people has not led to higher crime rates.”

No one wants violent suspects who are likely to harm others released to the street. But no one should want a system that allows them to buy their freedom, leaving others to languish in jail solely for lack of cash.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.

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January 2, 2023 at 08:51AM

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