II. Bond Reform
In July of 2017, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released a memo outlining how Cook County’s wealth-based pretrial detention scheme violates both the Illinois Bail Statute and U.S Constitution. Holder joins the chorus of attorneys, community organizations and policy groups that recognize that, too often, a person’s access to wealth is the deciding factor in determining whether he or she remains incarcerated after arrest.
Passage of the Bond Reform Act of 2017 by the 100th General Assembly reaffirms the already existing Illinois Criminal Code’s protections against the misuse of the bond system. Nevertheless, the overuse of cash bond, which bases pre-trial release decisions on wealth and not risk, still continues across the state.
The Attorney General is defending the state’s bond system in Robinson v. Lewis, a case that challenges the constitutionality of the practice. The case is being heard in the Chancery Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County.
Do you agree with the Holder memo, that opines that traditional use of bond in Illinois uses intentionally unaffordable cash bonds as a mean to keep people incarcerated in a pre-trial setting and thus is a constitutionally unacceptable practice, or do you support the Attorney General’s current defense of the system?
If elected, what would you do to help improve bond court practice and outcomes across the state?
I agree that the traditional use of cash bonds in Illinois has resulted in many people being incarcerated in a pre-trial setting who were neither a risk to others nor a flight risk. Rather, they simply could not afford the bond that was set and therefore remained incarcerated on account of poverty. While I do not support the traditional system, given the Illinois Attorney General’s obligation to defend Illinois laws when they are challenged on Constitutional grounds, I would be statutorily obligated to defend the State in this case, regardless of my opinion on the system’s merits.
Reforming Illinois’ bond system is a priority because of the ways in which the current system perpetuates existing inequities and disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations. A key factor in helping to ensure that any reforms that are enacted actually are put into practice is addressing the resource deficits that exist in certain counties throughout Illinois. I have been speaking to various States Attorneys regarding reforming bond court practice and have been advised that certain counties simply do not have sufficient personnel to be able to comply with various aspects of the reforms. Accordingly, I would advocate that the General Assembly appropriate additional resources to help those counties better comply with the Bond Reform Act of 2017 and would attempt to work with the Illinois States Attorneys Association to formulate methods by which counties can better leverage technology and existing resources in order to achieve full compliance.
I agree that the monetary bail/cash bond system is unjust and ultimately should be abolished in favor of purely risk-based assessments of whether or not an arrestee’s detention while awaiting trial is necessary to the public safety. I support the use of non-monetary options, such as electronic monitoring and substance abuse treatment requirements, in lieu of bond to deter flight and nonappearance. These were elements of the Illinois Bail Reform Act, which I co-sponsored last year, but I believe the General Assembly can and should go farther, gathering the political will to strengthen this policy and eventually abandon the entire monetary bail system. Despite guidelines for judges and the recent leadership of the Cook County State’s Attorney and the Chief Judge, the continued existence of monetary bail as an option invites unconstitutional decisions to impose bail on a person unable to pay, while also contributing to overcrowded jail conditions that are unsafe for detainees and employees alike.
I do not support the decision of the current Attorney General to defend the current system in the course of defending the judges named in the Robinson suit. The 2017 reform law and the order of Chief Judge Timothy Evans are major and positive steps in the right direction, but they do not yet permanently and comprehensively reform bail by removing the monetary element for the indigent awaiting trial. Recent progress in Cook County, while it has relieved overcrowding at the state’s largest county jail, does not change the status quo in other jurisdictions. The issues the plaintiffs raise are not moot; therefore, I would not as Attorney General mount a defense in court on those grounds.
I would work with the plaintiffs in Robinson, the state’s judges and state’s attorneys and the General Assembly to come to a resolution that fully implements the intent behind the Illinois Bail Reform Act. I would also lend my office’s expertise and influence to the effort to develop and deploy an evidence-based risk-based assessment tool as defined in the Act so that all counties have access to the same playbook on pre-trial detention.