In 2022, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the SAFE-T Act. It included a provision referred to as the Pre-Trial Fairness Act. This historic change to Illinois law eliminated the old “cash bail” system. That system had been in place for decades. When arrested for a crime, the person appeared before a Judge for a Bond Hearing. The Judge would evaluate factors such as prior convictions, flight risk, ties to the community, and the gravity and initial evidence of the alleged crime.
Based on those factors, the Judge would decide whether the person was eligible for release pending trial. Illinois law carries the presumption of innocence. Thus, the imposition of Cash Bail required them to put money behind their promise to return to Court. The challenge was that people alleged to have committed petty crimes would still need to put up Cash or face detention in County Jail.
This system penalized those who could not easily afford to post the money while their case was pending. Cases sometimes take many months or years to get to a trial (or plea bargain). If the person could not afford even a small amount, they would remain in County Jail pending trial. This meant they would miss work, miss their obligations to their families, miss paying bills and so forth.
The new system eliminates the Cash Bail requirement. Instead, only arrestees charged with a forcible felony face jail. Judge release all others pending trial. If they fail to appear in Court, or are charged with another crime, they can be remanded to Jail pending trial. For those charged with eligible felonies, the Court weighs the risk posed to the victim, the risks posed to the community, whether the person is a flight risk and their ties to the community before deciding whether they must remain in custody or are released pending trial.
The changes took effect September 18, 2023. Judges, lawyers and county administrators have navigated the changes. (Credit: WBEZ, “Bail reform gets its first test Monday, and Cook County sees a smooth rollout”) Initial hearings take more time, but there are fewer who require the hearing.