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New Illinois Law Requires Bail Review For Some Crimes

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill Friday that he said will “transform” the bail process in Illinois, but some criminal justice advocates said the bill doesn’t substantially change how cash bond works.

Bail is a tool judges use to make sure suspects continue to show up for court, but many advocates say it punishes the poor, who often can’t afford to post bond set on even low-level crimes.

The new bill allows people charged with some crimes, both misdemeanors and low-level felonies, to have their bail reviewed within seven days if they were unable to post bond. The bill also gives some people a $30 credit toward bond for everyday spent in jail.

“What this does is provide fairness to folks, who are struggling to make ends meet, commit a minor offense, and should not be forced to languish in jail,” Rauner said.

But Cara Smith, chief police officer for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, said the bill takes “modest steps,” but she doesn’t expect it will reduce the number of people in the county’s jails.

Dart has been an advocate for reforming cash bail. He doesn’t want people charged with low-level offenses to sit in jail because they can’t post bond. He also wants to make it harder for those charged with the most serious crimes to leave jail while they await trial.

Criminal justice reform organizations have said a person's ability to post bond has nothing to do with whether or not they are a public safety threat, and there is nothing in the new bill that will substantially change how judges determine bond.

Max Suchan, director of operations for the Chicago Community Bond Fund, which pays bond for people unable to do so on their own, said the bill “continues to allow judges to use money bond in every case before them. True comprehensive bail reform must include hard limits on the use of money bond and must also reduce the jail population.”

Sharlyn Grace, a policy analyst at the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, a justice advocacy and research organization, said: “It’s simply the case that money bond is not a evidence based policy, and we need to greatly restrict the ability of our courts to use it.”

Grace, however, praised a part of the bill that would allow people access to a lawyer during their bond hearings. She said that is already a common practice in Cook County, but it’s good to have it enshrined in law, especially for counties where access to a lawyer during a bond hearing might not happen. 

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx hailed the bill as a positive step towards a more fair and legitimate legal system. 

Shannon Heffernan covers criminal justice for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @shannon_h.

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