FILE - Illinois State Capitol

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois.

(The Center Square) – Eliminating cash bail in Illinois was once again front and center at a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday.

The Criminal Law and Special Committee on Public Safety heard testimony on the benefits and drawbacks of ending money bonds.

There are about 38,000 people being held in Illinois state prisons, according to Department of Corrections data. The Coalition to End Money Bonds said many thousands more people are being held in local jails while they await trial, some because they can’t afford to post their bail.

“Money bonds are often set at impossibly high amounts for the poor, and as a result, thousands of people stay locked up before their court date simply they can’t afford to pay the price of their bond,” spokesman Malik Alim said.

Illinois 23rd Judicial Circuit Court Judge Robbin Stuckert said money bonds serve two purposes.

“It is to maximize community safety and it is also to maximize court appearance, and further we want to make sure we want to maximize release for those persons who can be safely be released into the community,” she said.

In 2017, the Illinois General Assembly passed a statewide bail reform law that provided for a presumption that most people charged with nonviolent crimes could be released without posting cash bonds. It also provided that cash bonds can be required for more serious charges, but that a person could not be held solely for an inability to pay that bond.

DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin has testified that since that law went into effect, his county saw an overall increase of 53% in defendants failing to appear for their court dates. He said that victims of crimes have a right to be compensated and in many jurisdictions, bail money is used to help pay for restitution.

New York state eliminated cash bail for almost all offenses except violent felonies. There was an immediate backlash after the NYPD claimed the crime rate was going up, and district attorneys lobbied to roll back the bail reforms. In April, legislators took action so judges can hold more people on cash bail.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has released 7 guidelines for justice reform, including ending cash bail.

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.