As of Monday, Illinois is the first state to ban cash bail, a long-fought and debated change that finally takes effect more than two years after lawmakers intended. "The implementation of the Pre-trial Fairness Act will make Illinois the first state in the country to remove the price tag from the presumption of innocence," said Tanya Watkins of Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation. The Illinois Supreme Court overturned a lower court's decision to block the ban, which eliminates the requirement for defendants to post a cash bail so they can be released before trial instead of waiting it out behind bars, Scripps News reports. "Today, Illinois is no longer criminalizing poverty, and the entire nation has their eyes on us," said Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch.
Illinois judges will still have the power to hold defendants in jail before trial, but a prosecutor must argue they're a flight risk or a threat to public safety. "Judges maintain extremely broad discretion, right? There has always been an enormous slate of options for judges, pre-trial, to put into place for individuals to return to court and to protect the public," said Erin George of the Bail Project. Abolishing cash bail was part of the SAFE-T Act, a criminal justice overhaul passed by the Illinois legislature in 2021. A state judge struck down the law, ruling the bail provision could be enacted only with an amendment to the state's constitution, not with a new law. Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis wrote for the supreme court's, "Our constitution creates a balance between the individual rights of defendants and the individual rights of crime victims."