The Daily Explains: What ending cash bail means for criminal justice reform and the misinformation that followed


Illustration by Olivia Abetya.

The cash bail system will end in Illinois on January 1.

Cash bail will be discontinued in Illinois on Jan. 1, though misinformation about what its termination will change continues to dominate news sites and state office campaigns.  

The cash bail system, used in most states, allows a person awaiting trial to pay a fine at a set price as collateral and leave jail while awaiting trial. According to Illinois advocates who oppose cash bail like the Coalition to End Money Bond, this system allows wealth to determine who is held in jail and who may return home before trial. 

In January 2021, Governor JB Pritzker signed the Safety, Accountability and Fairness Equity-Today Act, an extensive law aimed at reforming the criminal justice system. The Pretrial Fairness Act is a part of the extensive act and will abolish cash bail from the criminal justice process.

Illinois will be the first state to eliminate the system, with other states across the nation including New Jersey and California seeking to reform cash bail. 

Misinformation about the bill has been prevalent in recent weeks on tweets, commercials and news sites and referenced by political figures including Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau and Illinois Governor candidate Darren Bailey. While some claim the law allows a person accused of crimes to walk free while awaiting their trial, advocates say this option has long existed for those able to afford cash bail. 

The law attempts to address this inequity and level the playing field. A judge will decide how a defendant will await trial based on criteria such as the defendant’s risk to public safety, flight risk and criminal history, instead of financial ability. 

Pekau’s statements on the law circulated on Tiktok and Twitter. In the video, the mayor, who is running for U.S. Congress, stated that people awaiting trial for offenses including kidnapping, armed robbery and second degree murder will flee and “someone could decide to live in your shed, and all we can do is give them a ticket.” 

Many viral videos and tweets posted by users have dubbed the act a “Purge Law,” referencing the 2013 movie in which all crime is legal for 12 hours. Bailey’s comments on the law have consistently referenced the purge, warning Illinois residents that Pritzker’s leadership has left Chicago “living in the purge.” 

The Republican candidate’s gubernatorial campaign has consistently criticized his opponent for signing the Pretrial Fairness Law, publishing commercials claiming that “Pritzker released dangerous criminals.” 

These claims are false: The Pre-Trial Fairness Act specifies that defendants facing a forcible felony that comes with a mandatory sentence of imprisonment without probation will be detained before trial. Those felonies include first and second degree murder, robbery and kidnapping, among others. 

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Twitter: @shannonmatyler

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