SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers have the chance to ensure poverty is never the reason a person stays in jail.
The Pretrial Fairness Act has been newly introduced in both chambers and would reform the state’s pretrial justice system and end the use of money bond.
State Sen. Robert Peters, (D-Chicago), who sponsored the bill, said too many people can’t afford to pay the bond for their release. And he contends pretrial incarceration stands at the intersection of race, class and gender.
“Every community in Illinois is impacted by a system that said if you’re poor, but especially if you’re poor and Black, and especially if you’re poor and Black and a woman, then you are going to have a caste or a tiered system of safety,” Peters described.
Some in law enforcement have raised concerns about the legislation, arguing cash bail helps fund the criminal justice system, and is an incentive to ensure people charged with crimes appear in court.
Kevin Blumenberg, an organizer with The People’s Lobby, said ending cash bail is an important cause for him personally.
He explained he was incarcerated in high school, and the bond set by the judge was unaffordable. Blumenberg added it can have a negative impact on the person being held, as well as their family.
“It affects them from an educational standpoint, it affects them from an economical standpoint and it affects their future,” Blumenberg explained. “And for the person that has experienced it, it’s going to affect you psychologically, emotionally as well as spiritually. I’m fortunate that I was able to survive it and get through it.”
Rabbi Jason Fenster with congregation BJBE in Deerfield is among nearly 200 faith leaders who signed a letter calling on lawmakers to end money bond by year’s end.
He called the current justice system “unjust.”
“It’s a system that we know costs too much, is not effective and is not fair,” Fenster asserted. “Disproportionately affecting and dismantling communities of color, criminalizing poverty. That’s not what justice looks like.”
The Pretrial Fairness Act would allow a judge to order pretrial detention if the accused person presents a risk of harming others or fleeing. It would also mandate pretrial data be collected and released publicly.