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The next steps now that Illinois has abolished cash bail


In 2023, Illinois became the first state to abolish cash bail. That ended years of heated debate, at least in one state. Now, Illinois is following a new policy which calls for a judge to determine when a person should remain in jail before a trial is held. Mawa Iqbal of member station WBEZ reports.

MAWA IQBAL, BYLINE: Before the big change occurred in Illinois, there were familiar arguments over cash bail. Law enforcement officials and others said cash bail was a way to make sure people who were arrested would come back for their court date, and that it would keep any criminal from being released into the community and re-offending. Critics argued cash bail was a poor people's tax that discriminated against individuals who couldn't come up with the money. That was certainly true for Chicago resident Lavette Mayes. Several years ago, she was arrested and charged with aggravated battery after a fight with a family member. Her bond was set at $250,000 during a quick court hearing.

LAVETTE MAYES: It wasn't even 30 seconds. I remember them reading something off a sheet of paper that the prosecutor had given the judge, and that was it.

IQBAL: Mayes couldn't pay the $25,000, the 10% bail required. So she stayed in jail for 14 months until she got the help of a bail reform group. During that time, she had lost her new small business, almost lost custody of her two kids, and later she had to move back into her childhood home. Several states have since worked to ease cash bail requirements, but Illinois took it a step further when Democratic state lawmakers introduced the Pretrial Fairness Act in an effort to abolish the money bond system. Lawmaker Robert Peters was a sponsor.

ROBERT PETERS: What we know about money bond is it stands at the intersections of race, class and gender. We're going to work to break down a system that stands at that intersection.

IQBAL: There was intense pushback from opponents. And more than 60 state attorneys and sheriffs in the state challenged the law in court, calling it unconstitutional. Kankakee County State's Attorney James Rowe criticized lawmakers who wanted to abolish cash bail.

JAMES ROWE: They had decided from their ivory towers, where they sit with their security details far away from the crime.

IQBAL: The law was to go into effect in January of 2023. However, the legal battle delayed the elimination of cash bail in Illinois for nine months. Alison Shames, director of the Maryland-based Center for Effective Policy, was part of a task force set up to help Illinois counties make the transition to a no-cash-bail system. She says now that money is out of the equation, judges and prosecutors can clearly decide who should remain in jail before trial.

ALISON SHAMES: The only reason for detention is danger and flight risk.

IQBAL: And Shames says the focus now is on implementing the new system consistently throughout the state. Judge Mary Marubio oversees pretrial detention hearings in Cook County, the state's largest county, which includes Chicago and the suburbs. And Marubio says the transition to no cash has been pretty smooth.

MARY MARUBIO: It's not that different than it's always been, right? It's just money is no longer one of the conditions that's ordered.

IQBAL: But smaller counties are feeling the difference. Jordan Garrison is a state's attorney in central Illinois. He's part of a staff of four that must monitor people who are released pretrial, about 20 individuals each month.

JORDAN GARRISON: It's a significant burden to try to track that many people, especially in a rural community that doesn't have much resources.

IQBAL: County officials, criminal justice experts and advocates say it will take some time to adapt and to determine how Illinois' no-cash-bail law is affecting crime and jail populations overall.

For NPR News, I'm Mawa Iqbal in Springfield, Ill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Mawa Iqbal