Monday, March 01, 2021

Illinois the first state to eliminate cash bail; issue disproportionately affects poor, helps overcrowd rural jails

"Illinois this week became the first state in the country to eliminate cash bail, a system that critics say leaves poor people—most often minorities—in jail for months awaiting trial," Kate Queram reports for Route Fifty. "Under the new law, judges will not be able to set any kind of bail for most defendants. Instead, they’ll use a risk assessment system to determine whether a defendant is a good candidate for release. Detention is a last option to be used only when “it is determined that the defendant poses a specific, real and present threat” to another person, or 'has a high likelihood of willful flight.' Judges will still be able to detain defendants charged with felonies, including murder and domestic battery."

The issue disproportionately affects the poor, who often can't make bail and must pay bond companies (typically 10 percent of the bail) to get out of jail, CNN reports. Those who can't bond out are stuck in jail, contributing to the overcrowding that's especially pronounced in rural and county jails. The numbers of people awaiting trial far outnumber people serving sentences.

Growing support for elimination of cash bail could make prison expansion—a popular rural economic tactic—less profitable, according to bail reform proponents.

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