Illinois on Monday became the first state to eliminate cash bail, the system under which people are kept in jail without being convicted of a crime—simply because they cannot afford to pay bail.
Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law a bill recently passed in the Illinois legislature to end the practice across Illinois by 2023, reports WGN9.
Pritzker acknowledged the racial justice implications of the measure and called it, “Illinois’ effort to lead the country in dismantling systemic racism.”
The new law also requires that all police officers in the state wear body cameras by 2025, creates a duty for cops to intervene when they witness other officers using unauthorized force and raises standards for the issuance of no-knock warrants, among other criminal justice reform measures.
The centerpiece of the massive law is ending cash bail. Almost everyone would be released from jail while awaiting trial unless a judge decides otherwise.
The reforms also provide more rights for people accused of crimes and victims. People in police custody will be allowed to make three phone calls. While barriers are removed to help more people access the state’s victims’ compensation program.
The police reforms are the most controversial measures.
The legislation increases certification for officers, allows for complaints to be submitted anonymously, and mandates the use of body cameras. Officers would be held responsible for turning the body cam on.
“There is a concern that this bill establishes a new criminal penalty for police officers who do not use their body cameras when required by law,” said State Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis). “I believe that this bill actually makes us as a state, the public less safe.”
Funny, as an Illinois resident myself, police officers being able to choose whether or not they want to wear body cameras is actually what makes me feel less safe.
Body cameras brought to light the disturbing behavior of Chicago police officers who barged into the home of Black social worker Anjanette Young in 2019 during a botched raid and handcuffed the woman while she was naked.
Even then, it took a court battle for the footage to be released last year—showing to the public just how less safe the police made that Black woman and supporting her efforts to get restitution for the traumatic experience.
The historic bill was authored by the Illinois legislature’s Black Caucus.
“These measures begin to build a smarter system where sentencing and bail decisions are based on the safety of the public rather than the wealth and skin color of the defendant, and where bad actors in our police departments are held accountable while those who serve with integrity have the resources they need,” said Rep. Sonya Harper, chair of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus in a statement sent to The Root.
Advocates in Illinois who’ve led the fight against cash bail—which disproportionately impacts Black people like the criminal system does generally—lauded the Black Caucus and Gov. Pritzker for moving forward the measure.
“The end of cash bond—one of the most important reforms—will put meaning into our criminal justice system’s presumption of innocence,’” Director of the Illinois Justice Project, Sharone Mitchell said in a statement on the passage of the bill. “When effective in two years, judges will be able to detain anyone determined to be a threat to the community or unlikely to return for a court date, but no one else will be required to come up with cash to buy their release from jail prior to a trial.”
According to the Center for American Progress, three to five people in jail in the U.S. have not been convicted of a crime.