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One State Is Set to Eliminate Cash Bail Entirely

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In October, the New York Post reported that progressive Democrat Letitia James said she was "open" to changing a controversial cashless bail law that reportedly led to an uptick in violence and other crimes. The law eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanors and some crimes. James' sudden shift came after polls showed that crime was a top concern among voters. 

Come 2023, one blue state is set to eliminate cash bail altogether. 

On Jan. 1, Illinois is set to become the first state to completely eliminate cash bail. This will put defendants awaiting trial on the streets and threaten public safety, as seen in New York and New Jersey after some cities eliminated cash bail, the Wall Street Journal noted: 

The current system in Illinois has three options: The most dangerous suspects can be detained leading up to trial. The rest can be bailed out pending a hearing, or else released on their own recognizance. The adjusted rules will eliminate the middle option and restrict judicial discretion on which suspects pose a threat to the community if freed.

Illinois enacted these changes in the SAFE-T Act, which passed in 2021 after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis at the hands of police. Many states reacted to the public outrage by rushing through criminal-justice reforms. But the Illinois bill posed so many problems that all but two of Illinois’s 102 state attorneys objected. Lawsuits filed by more than half of them are consolidated in Kankakee County. State legislators have twice amended the law to address complaints, but the no-bail experiment is set to go ahead.

For a preview of what’s likely to play out, Illinois can look at Cook County, home to Chicago, which reduced the use of bail in 2017. According to Wirepoints, 15,000 defendants freed before trial through the middle of 2022 were charged with new offenses, including murder and attempted murder. Last year Cook County’s Medical Examiner recorded 1,002 gun-related homicides, up from 881 in 2020. In the first 11 months of this year, Chicago had 3,258 people shot, including 208 shootings in November, reports WTTW.

The SAFE-T Act makes the presumption of release the default. According to WSJ, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker claimed that ending bail is about "addressing the problem of a single mother who shoplifted diapers for her baby" and who shouldn't be "put in jail and kept there for six months because she doesn't have a couple of hundred dollars." 

And the Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell said that "the use of money as a determining factor in whether somebody is going to be in or out of jail before trial is really just an abhorrent practice," according to ABC.

ABC reported that more than 60 percent of defendants are eligible for release before trial but can't afford to pay bail and claimed that bail reform has "minimal impact" on public safety.

"We have a responsibility under the Constitution as lawmakers to keep people safe," Illinois state Rep. Jim Durkin, the House Republican leader, told ABC. "There are some people who are a threat to society who should be detained at trial. Move slowly. Don't take this national progressive approach."

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