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Illinois Becomes 1st State To Eliminate Cash Bail

Updated at 9:35 p.m. ET

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill Monday that makes Illinois the first state in the country to abolish cash bail payments for jail release for people who have been arrested and are waiting for their case to be heard.

The practice has long been controversial with criminal justice reform advocates who call cash bail a "poor people's tax" that has had a disproportionately negative impact on people of color. It leaves those who can't come up with the money in jail for weeks or longer or even accepting plea deals as a way to get out.

The Illinois Pre-Trial Fairness Act, as it's called, is part of Illinois House Bill 3653, a sweeping package of criminal justice measures. Some of the provisions include requiring police officers to be licensed by the state and to wear body-cams by 2025, expanding training opportunities for officers, making it easier to decertify police officers who commit misconduct, and improving a victims compensation program by making resources more readily available to survivors.

The bill was sponsored by a caucus of Black Illinois lawmakers who were galvanized, says Illinois State Rep. Justin Slaughter, by the death of George Floyd and others along with the summer protests and marches over policing and racial and social justice.

At the bill signing, Slaughter said it signaled action that went from "protest to progress" and Pritzker said, "This legislation marks a substantial step toward dismantling the systemic racism that plagues our communities, our state and our nation, and brings us closer to true safety, true fairness and true justice."

In a statement, the Illinois Law Enforcement Coalition, a collection of police unions and organizations representing police officers and county sheriffs, says the law will put the public and law enforcement at risk. "It is a blatant move to punish an entire, honorable profession that will end up hurting law-abiding citizens the most," the statement said. "We hope that it won't cause police officers to leave the profession in droves and handcuff those who remain so they can't stop crimes against people and property."

The executive director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police released a statement calling the measure "anti-police." Ed Wojcicki says it "unfairly targets officers and attempts to punish them, not just make them accountable."

Supporters of the elimination of cash bail say those are fear tactics and they point to studies that show little-to-no increase in crime caused by the near elimination of cash bail in New Jersey and Washington, D.C.

There have been other efforts to eliminate cash bail. However, bail reforms in New York and Alaska were rolled back or amended and voters in California opted to keep cash bail intact. Illinois is the only state now to strike it completely.

Many portions of Illinois House Bill 3653 will go into effect on July 1, however it will be another two years, January 2023, until the no cash bail policy is put in place. That's more than enough time, according to the Illinois attorney general, to work out any challenges that come with such a monumental change.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.