Illinois could become first state to end cash bail with passage of new social justice police reform bill

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Before it even hits the Illinois House floor, a bill that includes many social justice police reforms is causing controversy.

One part of the 611-page amendment to House Bill 163, a massive police reform initiative introduced Friday by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, is the Pretrial Fairness Act, which would abolish cash bail.

The aim of the legislation would set free certain criminal offenders without having to wait in jail for their court date, because they can’t afford bond.

Advocates for the abolishment of cash bail view it as a pillar of institutional racism within the criminal justice system.

Instead, a judge would issue pre-trial release conditions for offenders, something local pastors have been pushing for, saying the change is necessary to improve the criminal justice system.

“Our neighbors, our family members are incarcerated in county jails every year, and most of them are there because they are too poor to pay money bond,” said Pastor Violet Johnicker of the Brooke Road United Methodist Church, at 1404 Brooke Rd.

Pastor K. Edward Copeland, of New Zion Missionary Baptist Church, at 4747 W Riverside Blvd, said, “If you have had a bond hearing, what that means is: the judge says you can get out now, you just have to pay a certain amount of money. What we’re saying is that’s fundamentally unfair, because basically, what it does is, if you don’t have any money, you can’t get out but if you do have money, regardless of your danger to the society, you can get out.”

The Pretrial Fairness Act would still allow a judge to detain a person, but only for specific felony offenses, such as domestic battery, murder, or gun crimes.

“It’s just very bad for police officers, and we certainly, strongly oppose this legislation,” said Ed Wojcicki, executive director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

Wojcicki says law enforcement officers are worried the bill would set loose violent offenders.

“By eliminating bail – we’re talking about people who are accused of crimes. We have found, in a lot of situations, people, after they are arrested, they are in bad shape. They are dangerous. They are violent, and they should not be set free right away,” he said.

The bill, which would also eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement officers from civil lawsuits, is expected to come up in committee tomorrow.

If passed, Illinois would become the first state in the country to eliminate cash bail.

Gov. JB Pritzker said last month that abolishing the cash bail requirement was one of his “guiding principles.”

Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley released a statement on Friday, saying, “I fully support criminal justice reform. However, I cannot support House Bill 163. First, I am gravely concerned about the manner in which HB 163 is being considered. Specifically, the 611 page proposed bill is being presented during an abbreviated ‘lame-duck’ session where stakeholders and lawmakers do not have the opportunity to appropriately deliberate such a complex and sweeping piece of legislation. Second, and most importantly, provisions of this bill will lead to increases in violent crime, undermine public safety, and deny justice to crime victims. If passed, HB 163 will thwart our Office’s ability to carry out its mission: ‘To seek justice.’”

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