Illinois has officially become the first state in the country to eliminate cash bail. Proponents of the measure say that it punishes the poor unfairly. The Pretrial Fairness Act prevents judges from setting bail but gives them broader discretion to deny release to those accused of violent crimes. Those opposed to the measure included prosecutors and police officers who see it as being “soft on crime.”
The measure is seen as leveling the playing field for Black, Brown, and poor communities that can’t afford to pay their way out of jail even when they are not a risk to the community. A 2022 civil rights report on cash bail showed that, on average, Black arrestees are required to pay 35% more than their white counterparts. Latinos on average pay 19% more. Hence, the system was intrinsically racist and remains so in states that have not eliminated cash bail. An estimated 60% of defendants ended up in jail because they could not afford to post bail.
Critics of the measure believe that this will allow dangerous people back on the streets. Law enforcement and other critics of the measure believe that now that cash bail has ended, defendants have no incentive to return to court. This will end up creating a situation where they are searching for defendants who are let out of jail.