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Illinois First State to Ban Cash Bail Entirely

In July 2023, Illinois was the first state to pass a bill that banned cash bail entirely. It took effect soon after on Sep. 18, leaving support and opposition. 

The bill is part of a series of reforms called the Safe, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act or SAFE-T. This part of the bill eliminates cash bail and creates a pretrial system for defendants. The pretrial procedure allows defendants who don’t pose a danger to public safety to be released and are not forced to pay bail. Of course, they will be required to come back for trial. If a defendant doesn’t show up to court, they could incur a fine, a summon, jail time up to 30 days or a warning. 

Serious offenders, those who commit murder, stalking, battery and sex offenses, will be detained. Judges are also given the choice to detain offenders in cases in which they are a danger to public safety (especially in cases of targeting a specific individual) or are more likely to become a flight risk. 

After the killing of George Floyd, Illinois’s Black Caucus proposed a series of reforms regarding Criminal Justice and other keystone issues affecting Illinois citizens. The SAFE-T Act was a key bill among the reforms aimed at addressing inequality in Illinois’s judicial system. 

Critics of cash bails have noted some disadvantages as listed in a federal civil rights report: On average, black men received 30% higher bail amounts than white men, and Latino men received 19% higher bail than their white counterparts. The same report reveals that 60% of pretrial detainees were there because they couldn’t pay their bills. 

Some critics see it as a moral constraint on Illinois’s citizens. Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell Jr. said it was akin to “a cousin to slavery.”

Of course, some critics of the bill believe enacting it will cause danger to public safety. There has been concern whether those who are released with a minor crime will commit more crimes or even worse, violent crimes between release and trial. 

Many critics point to New York’s more relaxed restriction on bail. There have been stories of offenders being charged with more minor charges but escalating to more violent crimes before trial. Many point to the case of Adam Bennefield, who assaulted his wife and was released only to murder her a few hours later. 

The bill is still very much in its early stages, we will see its greater long-term effect in the coming years and whether it will expand to other states. 


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