Last week, U.S. Representative Danny Davis (IL-07) introduced the Bail Fairness Act of 2018, which would prohibit states from imposing monetary conditions of release upon individuals charged with nonviolent misdemeanors. This federal bill seeks to remedy the unconstitutional and racially biased practice of detaining people who have not been convicted of a crime, solely on the basis of their inability to post bail. Throughout the U.S., people of color are subject to pretrial detention at disproportionately high rates. By routinely incarcerating individuals who are presumed innocent, often for years at a time, our nation’s broken and unjust bail system has had devastating impacts on the housing, employment, child custody status, and sentencing outcomes of hundreds of thousands of Black community members.
In Illinois, the Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ) has joined allied community organizations and activists in calling upon lawmakers to reform the racist and corrupt policy of pretrial detention for defendants who cannot afford bail. In 2017, state legislators responded to constituent pressure by passing the Bail Reform Act, which guarantees individuals the right to counsel at bond hearings and grants limited bail review for poor defendants. This legislation marks an important step forward for statewide bail reform. However, in its failure to impose concrete restrictions on the issuance of money bonds and its perpetuation of pretrial incarceration, the Bail Reform Act falls short of restoring the full rights of presumptively innocent poor and Black defendants.
At the county level, local organizers have long drawn attention to the racist and unconstitutional detention practices of Cook County jail, in which minorities comprise 93% of all inmates awaiting trial for periods longer than two years. In 2017, Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Tim Evans issued an order requiring judges to set affordable bonds for all defendants who pose no threat to the public. The countywide policy has demonstrated initial success, yielding a 15% reduction in the jail population within the first two months of implementation.
In order to promote equity and justice for all defendants awaiting trial in Illinois, WCRJ calls upon state legislators to pass the Equal Justice For All Act (HB 3421) which would eliminate the monetary bond system statewide and restrict pretrial detention to only the most serious cases.
WCRJ is committed to resisting the systemic racism and oppression endemic to the criminal justice and prison system in Illinois and beyond. More information on how you can get involved can be found here.