There is no longer cash bail in Illinois. What happens now?
After litigation delaying its implementation, the full provisions of Illinois’ SAFE-T Act went into effect on Sept. 18. Here’s what to expect.
Illinois is the first state to abolish cash bail statewide, but what will that mean for crime?
The end of cash bail
After litigation delayed its full implementation, Illinois’ SAFE-T Act went into full effect Sept. 18 by order of the Illinois Supreme Court. Before then, all those arrested, regardless of offense, would be taken to a judge to determine the cash bail amount needed for the defendant to go free until trial.
The Pretrial Fairness Act portion of the SAFE-T Act changed the law by limiting the possibility of pretrial detention to defendants charged with felonies who pose a real and present threat to the safety of any person or persons or the community and those fulfilling one of eight categories of offenses and meeting the corresponding standard of threat to people or possibly the community. These include crimes such as stalking and weapons charges.
A prosecutor will now be required to file a petition for a defendant’s pretrial detention showing clear and convincing evidence the defendant committed the alleged offense and meets the standard of threat required to deny pretrial release for that offense. Any other offenders will be issued a summons to appear within 21 days.
What happens now?
There has been much speculation about the consequences of the SAFE-T Act from both supporters and opponents. But while Illinois is the first state to abolish cash bail statewide, smaller jurisdictions have experimented with reducing their reliance on it, including Cook County.
In 2017 the chief judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County issued General Order 18.8A requiring courts to ascertain a defendant’s ability to pay bail and establishing a presumption of nonmonetary conditions for release, among other things. This order resulted in a 15% drop in the average daily jailed population between 2017 and 2023. In that same period, the average daily population subject to pretrial curfew with radio frequency monitoring went up 177%, from 353 to 976. Those subject to GPS monitoring went up 152% from 288 to 725 individuals.
In that time, 82% of felony defendants released have not been charged with any new offenses while out on bond, and over 96% have not been charged with a violent offense.
Additional harms, including an increased likelihood of recidivism, must be weighed against any immediate threat to public safety. Avoiding pretrial detention also avoids costs related to unemployment and increased rates of defendants committing additional crimes, both of which are associated with time spent in jail awaiting trial.
But despite the potential positives of eliminating cash bail, the law doesn’t directly address the serious crime issues facing Illinoisans. Chicago has seen a spike in crime, including shooting incidents, and the city’s four deadliest years since 2000 were between 2016 and 2022
Ensuring a smooth transition
Prosecutors will need more time and resources to meet the additional requirements to show whether a defendant is a danger to the community and should be detained. The state and city of Chicago need to implement policies to deal with the problem of rising crime for the benefits of no-cash release to be realized.
Those policies and needed actions include:
• Calibrating release requirements to the offense and the defendant’s previous record
• Creating a stronger Truth in Sentencing law that requires serious and repeat offenders to serve their full sentences
• Using Chicago’s home rule powers to enact policies that empower police, ensure accountability for more serious offenses and provide transparency to the public regarding the pretrial release of those suspected of serious offenses.
Illinois state lawmakers and the justice system have more work to do to make the SAFE-T Act safer and ensure the balance between defendant rights and public safety is maintained.