Op-Ed: Illinois Supreme Court likely to rule state legislature acted hastily in ending cash bail

Op-Ed: Illinois Supreme Court likely to rule state legislature acted hastily in ending cash bail

Jeff Clayton, American Bail Coalition

Excerpt from The Center Square - Jan 10, 2023

Two years ago, the Illinois legislature made a bold, politically-motivated move, voting to eliminate monetary bail, with implementation scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1 of this year. Well, that day finally arrived and the Illinois Supreme Court has wisely stepped in and is poised to announce what many of us already knew – that the lawmakers' actions were unconstitutional.

End cash bail! Intent on reducing the number of people held in jail pending trial, this has been the charge of criminal justice reformers in Illinois and across the nation for more than a decade. During this time, they abandoned their original strategy of using risk assessments to sort people in and out of jail following arrest. As it turned out, the foolproof algorithms they embraced were shown to be racially biased.

Instead, activists proceeded with the idea of banning cash bail as the quickest, easiest way to right a wrong. It was the equivalent of a pencil-and-eraser solution to a significant criminal justice problem: just make it go away. In the end, it was a fool's errand.

It cannot be stated more clearly. The legislature cannot simply overcome the plain meaning of the state constitution and “end cash bail.”

Despite this, Illinois lawmakers embarked on a mission to end money bail several years ago by passing the SAFE-T Act due to alleged unfairness of the bail system to those who are indigent. Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who signed the law over objections of law enforcement and prosecutors, was heavily supportive of that effort. He joined the chorus of criminal justice reformers who were able to convince state officials they should end money bail through a campaign of manipulative, emotional appeals tied to cherry-picked cases.

The effort yielded the expected headlines, which legislators coveted as praises for their righteousness. Caught up in the zealotry, some media outlets erroneously stated that Illinois was the first state to eliminate cash bail.

Ultimately, the legislature was dead-wrong in believing it could repeal the established tradition of monetary bail in Illinois – one that dated back more than 200 years – without a constitutional change.

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