Dan Petrella, Chicago Tribune, February 22, 2021
Illinois is set to become the first state to abolish cash bail under a sweeping criminal justice overhaul Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law Monday.
The massive bill, praised by reform advocates and panned by many in law enforcement, will end cash bail beginning in 2023, require police officers statewide to wear body cameras by 2025, eliminate requirements for signing sworn affidavits when filing complaints against officers, and create a more robust statewide system for tracking police misconduct and decertifying officers who commit wrongdoing, among a host of other changes.
“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,” Pritzker said during a signing ceremony at Chicago State University.
Opponents of the legislation “don’t want any change, don’t believe there is injustice in the system, and are preying upon fear of change to lie and fearmonger in defense of the status quo,” the governor said.
The measure, passed in January during the waning hours of the previous General Assembly’s lame-duck session was advanced by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus as part of its response to the public outcry over the death last year of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Its provisions begin going into effect July 1.
Illinois and 26 other states have enacted more than 100 new laws dealing with law enforcement policy since May, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But it is the only state so far to eliminate financial conditions for releasing people from custody while they await trial. California approved a similar law in 2018 but voters blocked it from taking effect.
Under the new pretrial system, judges will be given broader discretion to determine whether those accused of crimes pose a danger to a specific person or the community at large and whether they are likely to show up in court without being held in jail. Supporters say the current system too often results in people who haven’t been convicted of any crime being denied their freedom simply because they can’t make bail.
But police unions and leadership organizations, including the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, have broadly criticized the changes, arguing that they will make communities less safe by making it easier for people to commit crimes while awaiting trial and putting too many restrictions on police.
The Illinois Law Enforcement Coalition, comprising those groups, issued a statement calling the new law “a blatant move to punish an entire, honorable profession that will end up hurting law-abiding citizens the most.”