No cash bail law goes into effect Jan 1, creating a more equitable justice system for Illinois residents


Eric Henry

The Metropolitan Correctional Center, located in the Loop.

Correction (1/25/2021): A previous version of this story listed the no cash bail law as going into effect in 2021. The story has since been updated to reflect that the law will go into effect in 2023. 

Non-violent offenders can be allowed to return home while awaiting trial regardless of whether they can pay bail thanks to the Illinois’ new ‘no cash bail’ law, which will go into effect 2023.

Judges can still detain people pretrial but only for certain felony offenses including domestic violence, murder, and certain gun charges,” said Jacqueline Lazu, associate dean of DePaul’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. “The judge will determine the person’s ‘flight risk’ or danger to individuals if released, but in all cases, judges have to impose the least restrictive conditions that ensures the likeliness of the person to return to court.”

DePaul senior Allison Terry said she believes that no cash bail is a step towards a more equitable justice system in Illinois. 

“Essentially, more wealthy people will no longer have an advantage when it comes to pretrial detainment,” Terry said. “Cash bail ultimately suggests that if you have money, you don’t have to go to jail even if you committed a crime. This was extremely unfair and this system crowded our jails with low-income, low-level offenders.”

Cash bail requirements disproportionately affected Black and Brown people for decades in Chicago due to systemic socio-economic standards such as serving longer prison sentences and earning low income compared to white offenders. 

“As we have witnessed, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, the egregious nature of mass incarceration in the US leaves, in particular, poor, Black and Brown people stranded in jails across the country without the ability to post bail for simple misdemeanors and low-level felonies,” Lazu said. “Ultimately, it will not only offer thousands of people quicker release from jail, but also reduces the expense of detentions for county jails.”

According to Lazu, cash bail is also a multi-million dollar industry that relies on people to pay for pretrial supervision costs.

By having overcrowded jails, tax payers are essentially paying to house and feed these inmates, too. No cash bail will lead to fewer inmates and  taxes directed towards jails like Cook County Jail, which is the third largest jail in the nation after LA County and New York.

“[These individuals] get sent up in the county jail, which is overcrowded and overtaxed.” said Demetrius Jordan, an adjunct professor. “And then you have to pay for more guards and more food and more things like that which make our taxes go up. The lack of a cash bill has to be a tax savings to the tax base of Cook County.”

Jordan said no cash bail had an effect on conviction rates due to inmates pleading guilty and becoming incarcerated as the quickest means to return to life. 

“Oftentimes what would happen is those individuals who have been incarcerated for three months waiting for court dates when they came before the judge the easiest thing for them to do was just to plead guilty because oftentimes the time that they spent awaiting trial will be counted toward their sentence,” Jordan said.

Jordan added that if these individuals were to plead innocent, they would return to jail for an indefinite amount of time to await another trial to prove themselves innocent. 

“With this lack of cash bond individuals being able to be out when they go to court, that may create some backlog in the court system, maybe for the best,” Jordan said.

Non-violent offenders are also stripped of their opportunities to contribute to society while awaiting their trials in jail.

There is not a chance that they’re looking for a job, working, taking care of maybe an elderly grandparent at home or picking kids up from school,” Jordan said. “These parts of society that kind of operate go away when an individual is incarcerated.”

Plus, people incarcerated before their trial date face losing their jobs, houses, and families, Lazu said. No cash bail gives non-violent offenders the opportunity to live normally before their trials. 

Jordan said he believes that no cash bail is a step towards a more equitable justice system. 

“It is a step toward making a more fair, equitable system, and making it systematically serve all of Cook County in all of Illinois and not just a certain people,” Jordan said.