CHICAGO — 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 Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, a Democrat, said the wide-scale protests that followed Floyd’s death after the coronavirus pandemic already had exposed many of society’s inequities were a call to action for Black lawmakers.
“The tragedies of this last year could have just left us beaten down and defeated. But we did not let it,” Lightford said. “We leveraged it to create real change, to create a better future for our children and grandchildren.”
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.
The current system also allows some people who do pose a risk to go free because they can afford to pay, said Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart, who joined Cook County’s top prosecutor, Kim Foxx, in backing the proposal.