No more cash bail beginning Monday in Illinois

Come Monday, most people charged with crimes in Illinois won’t have to post bail to get out of jail.
Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 6:44 PM CDT
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ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (KWQC) - It’s an experiment that’s never been tried before: Come Monday, most people charged with crimes in Illinois won’t have to post bail to get out of jail.

Illinois is the first state in the nation to eliminate cash bail. It’s part of a sweeping criminal justice reform law called the SAFE-T Act, upheld by the Supreme Court earlier this summer.

There’s plenty at stake on an issue that’s sparked deep controversy over Illinois’ criminal justice reform.

Why is this important?

Criminal justice reformers say the change means poor people will no longer sit incarcerated while the rich can afford to pay their way out.

But police and prosecutors say the new law is essentially a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for criminals likely to re-offend. Those include people accused of low-level felonies like drug possession or retail theft.

Either way, it means major changes for the accused, police, prosecutors and judges.

State’s Attorney Dora Villarreal, the county’s top prosecutor, said she agrees with the intent: that a person should not be kept in jail because of their income.

“I don’t think it should ever be that way. It needs to be fair and equal, regardless of how much money you have.

“However, the other side of that is, there are some people that, regardless of how much money they have or don’t have are violent offenders. They have committed crimes. ... And I think that that is what concerns me the most, that those individuals will be released and be allowed to continue to commit crimes.”

Before the change, a defendant had to post 10% of the bail to be released. So, if bail were set at $50,000, they’d have to pay $5,000. If they couldn’t come up with the money, they’d stay incarcerated.

Starting next week, most defendants will go free. The burden is on prosecutors now to prove to judges that certain defendants deserve to stay locked up throughout their court process.

Hany Khoury, who leads the public defender’s office, said there are misconceptions about what happens without cash bail.

“It’s not like you hear, people’s concerns that they’re just opening the doors and everybody’s going home without bond. The judge makes the determination. Is the person a danger on a detainable offense? Then the person will remain in jail. Are you a flight risk on a detainable offense? You’ll remain in jail. Doesn’t matter how much money you have or don’t have.”

What’s next?

Khoury says he plans to file motions to free nearly 40 inmates being held in the Rock Island County Jail.

Those will be argued on Monday, when prosecutors are also expected to fight to keep at least some of those inmates in jail.

Ultimately, this is what to remember: Starting next week, any person charged with a crime will be released unless a judge deems them a significant risk.