V. Bond Reform
Although presumed innocent before trial, thousands of men and women across Illinois are sitting in jail solely because they cannot afford to pay the bail set by a circuit court judge. Recent reform-- including the Bail Reform Act of 2017 passed by the 100th General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Rauner and local efforts in Cook County initiated by both the Chief Judge and the State’s Attorney of Cook County – have not eliminated the use of cash bond. The financial and family consequences facing low-income people in jail are enormous. Some innocent people will languish for years in jail until trial and then are released; others will plead guilty because they want to return to their homes as quickly as possible to keep their lives on track. Some Illinois courts keep up to 10% of all bonds – even when a person is found not guilty or charges have been dropped – and have become dependent on the bond system.
How would you reform the Illinois bond system?
We have to do away with cash bail. Our cash bail requirements can lead to complete and utter derailment for vast majority of offenders who are low-income. If you make a minimum wage, are put in jail and can’t make bail, you could miss work and lose your job, making it incredibly difficult to get a new jobs now that you have a record. Sixty-two percent of people in the Cook County Jail system are there simply because they cannot afford to pay their bail. They are not in jail because they pose a risk to the community, they are there because they are poor.
Meanwhile, gang members do have the ability to come up with the cash, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. This broken system allows violent offenders to return to the streets within hours while poor, non-violent offenders are kept in prison for months, sometimes serving more time pretrial than their ultimate sentences require. This is wrong. These resources should be put towards diversion and anti-violence initiatives instead of paying to keep poor, nonviolent offenders incarcerated.
We need to reduce the influence of money in how someone is treated in our criminal justice system. That’s why I support ending cash bail, reducing mandatory fines, reducing court fees, reduce surcharges, such as those proposed in HB 2591, and I support allowing nonviolent offenders to have access to electronic monitoring. We know that there is abhorrent variation across the state in the amount of fees and fines for the same type of proceedings. We should further work with the Illinois Supreme Court and our local government to identify best practices from around the state in reducing wait times and negative repercussions on low-level, nonviolent offenders due to our bail system.
I will protect people from being unfairly detained and imprisoned by leading the fight to abolish the monetary bail system and replacing it with a validated risk assessment tool that is fair to all of our communities. I'm also in favor of stopping the unjust application of fees and fines that burden those who can’t afford to pay, leading to incarceration.
I support ending the use of monetary bonds—full stop. We should continue to allow judges to detain individuals or place them under electronic monitoring depending on evidence that they are a risk to others, but no individual should be subject to pretrial detention simply because of their ability to pay. We must, without delay, implement a validated risk assessment tool and fully fund effective pretrial services. After implementing these measures, we should collect and make public data to evaluate and improve the bond system. As governor, I would work with the judicial branch to ensure that these changes to the legal codes make their way into courtrooms across the state by providing ongoing training to judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and other relevant players.