Majority of Americans agree that equal justice under the law is a vital principle as an American absolute. However, money is a driving factor in what justice “you will earn” in today's court. On Sept. 18, 2023, Illinois took a historic step in the right direction as the Pretrial Fairness Act went into effect and the state became the first in the country to eliminate cash bail.
The Pretrial Fairness Act, a long fight ran by impacted individuals with great leadership, grassroots organizations, and advocacy groups for state-based legislation, such as the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice and the Coalition to End Money Bond, is a huge embarkment in ensuring due process as a civil right as a following for the rest of the country.
Anytime and any day in this nation, half a million people are booked in jail for not just convictions but seeking court dates. These folks are impacted by the system as it is, but they are still innocent people that have been interlocked while facing trial. Incarceration before actual conviction is what it sounds: not having the funds to be removed and let go, it is unconstitutional. Cash bail, a big factor in whether or not incarceration will be more prolonged, creates a division system of justice where if you don't have the money for bail, you don't have the money to win your case. It further pushes racial disparities that strengthens the criminal justice system in being unlawful towards vulnerable populations.
With the Pretrial Fairness Act, cash is not an option for being considered for pretrial release. While eligibility for release applies to everyone who is accused of a crime, discretion is considered for detainment for those who have high-risk crimes such as first-degree murder and robbery. This law brings a review to pretrial and its process, including reducing the use of electronic monitoring per example.
With approval and sendoff of the Pretrial Fairness Act, Illinois is making a valiant effort to restore the presumption of innocence to the roughly 175,000 people that are incarcerated pretrial every year in the state. They are also joining a national movement to improve the criminal justice system by getting money out of it. From the east coast of New Jersey to the Bay Area of California, jurisdictions are retouching their base on how much of an impact cash bail plays into whether a judge releases someone in the pretrial stage. A more fail and equal system is one that doesn't need cash bail in it.