State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-4th District) voted along with the majority (32-23) to pass the Pretrial Fairness Act (HB3653) at 4:49 a.m. on Jan. 13. HB3653 was introduced by the Legislative Black Caucus of which Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-7th District), now the House Speaker, is a member. The bill was passed on to the Assembly which approved the 764-page piece of legislation later in the morning.
Passage of the Pretrial Fairness Act makes Illinois the first state in the nation to completely abolish cash bail — i.e. the requirement that arrestees post a monetary bond as a way of insuring that they return for their trial.
Although he hadn’t yet read the entire document by the time he was interviewed on Jan. 15, Police Chief Tom Aftanas sympathized with the spirit of the law, saying, “I’m sure at times, cash bail does affect the poor more than the wealthy. Even a low bond cannot be paid by the poor.”
According to NBC5, proponents of the bill contend that the current bail system disproportionately affects low-income people of color awaiting trial. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx told Channel 5, “Eliminating cash bail ends the practice of detaining non-violent offenders simply because they are poor, while also preventing violent offenders from being released because they can afford bail.”
Lightford, who co-sponsored the bill, referred to how COVID-19, pandemic-related statistics revealed that Black and Brown populations were disproportionately affected by the virus and the riot in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 to explain why proponents of the bill decided to push for its passage during the recent lame duck session of the state legislature.
“We must leverage this moment in time,” she told the State Journal Register, “to undo these damaging policies and procedures that are built into our state’s system of law and government that have created these deep inequities and opportunity gaps.”
Aftanas said he was not sure how much the act would affect Forest Park. Since Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ General Order 18.8A took effect on Sep. 18, 2017, “Most arrestees are given I-Bonds and are not required to pay cash especially since the pandemic began.”
According to Illinois Legal Aid Online, “An I-Bond, short for Individual Bond, is a personal recognizance bond. This means that you are released when you sign a statement saying you will come to court, without paying any actual money.”
Aftanas said judges are supposed to set bond according to the offender’s criminal history as well as the severity of the alleged crime, but he added: “I can say with certainty that arrestees charged with misdemeanor offenses and many felonies are not being held in jail as it is.”
The chief’s biggest issue was with process. “My colleagues and I just wish the legislators didn’t rush this bill through and vote on it in the middle of the night. Usually, we are asked to give our opinions and input to legislation that directly affects law enforcement. That was not the case in this situation.”
Rep. Dan Ugaste (R-Geneva) agreed with Aftanas’ comment about process saying, “Despite my issues with the content included in this bill, I found the process behind it the most disturbing. With minimal collaboration and zero efforts put forth for bipartisanship, a rushed bill was pushed through in the literal last minutes of our General Assembly. The process matters. In the case of the Black Caucus, while their policy deserves consideration, they completely disrespected the legislative process.”
Other critics of the Pretrial Fairness Act, which will take effect in 2023, include a petition signed by 112,000 Illinois residents who “oppose the community-endangering law,” as quoted in a Jan. 13 post by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.
The post says, “We had been working in good faith with the Attorney General on a bill that would make great strides to modernize law enforcement, but that legislation was dumped into this monster bill and the result is a betrayal of the public trust that gives many more advantages to criminals than the police. It ties the hands of police officers while pursuing suspects and making arrests and allows criminals to run free while out on bail.”
In effect, Cook County’s experience after Judge Evans’ order in 2017 was an experiment in eliminating cash bail. A report from the Chicago Council of Lawyers revealed:
• There has been a huge drop in overall pre-trial incarceration.
• Bond reform has helped close the racial gap in pre-trial detention decisions.
• Bond reform has not led to a spate of accused people missing court; in fact, court appearance rates are slightly better after bond reform.
• Bond reform has not led to a higher rate of arrests for people who are released pretrial.
• Only an extremely small percentage of people pretrial under bond reform have been arrested for a new violent crime.
HB3653 includes provisions for new police training policies, including crisis intervention and de-escalation tactics. One day after the bill’s passage Forest Park police ended a two-hour-long confrontation with a gun-wielding man with no one getting hurt, indicating that the department is ahead of the curve.
As of today, HB3653 is on Governor J. B. Pritzker’s desk waiting to be signed.