Illinois has become the first US state to fully abolish cash bail.
Judges will now only consider the seriousness of the offence and whether defendants threaten public safety or are a flight risk when making pre-trial detention decisions.
The change, thanks to the inaction of the SAFE-T Act, was celebrated by criminal justice activists as a major victory. They argued cash bail system was riddled with inequalities.
"The money bond system wrongly tied access to financial resources to pretrial freedom. The result has been countless individuals – mostly from Black and Brown communities – spending days, weeks, months, years in jail just for being poor," Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said on Monday when the law went into effect.
Lavette Mayes, who lost her home and livelihood while spending a year in jail pre-trail because she couldn’t afford bail on a charge related to a fight with a family member, told NPR on Monday the SAFE-T Act was a major step forward.
“I feel like a load has been lifted because we finally got something that’s going to help the Black and brown community,” she said. “Now I can sleep knowing that people just won’t be able to be sent back to jail because they can’t afford to pay bail.”
The new law was supposed to take effect on 1 January, but a coalition of prosecutors and law enforcement groups in the state sued, arguing the provision was unconstitutional.
A lower court sided with the challenge, but the state’s highest court cleared the way for the SAFE-T Act in July.
Some criticised the new law.
"The end of cash bail means the legal deck is stacked against the victim and community in favor of the criminal,” House Republican Leader Tony McCombie said in a statement. “This law makes it more difficult for police officers and prosecutors to keep our communities safe by ensuring offenders in most cases can walk free shortly after committing a heinous offense.”
Other states including California, New York, and New Jersey have significantly curtailed the use of cash bail with encouraging results, according to data.
“We have the highest return to court rates that we’ve ever seen in New Jersey [which] happened last year,” Alexander Shalom, the director of Supreme Court advocacy at the ACLU of New Jersey, told WCIA earlier this year. “The number of people who get re-arrested, released and then re-arrested for serious violent crimes, still hovers around 1%”
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