End Money Bail
The state legislature has the power to end the use of money bond in Illinois through legislation. In 2017 and 2018, CCBF worked with our partners in the Coalition to End Money Bond to support the Equal Justice for All Act, sponsored by Christian Mitchell. The bill served as the gold standard for bond reform legislation by completely eliminating the role of money and ensuring that more people were released pretrial. While bail reform did pass the Illinois legislature in 2017, it was not transformative in Cook County. The Bail Reform Act of 2017 did not have an impact on use of money bond or pretrial incarceration, though it did make the important change of guaranteeing representation during bail hearings across Illinois. For a full exploration of the Act’s impact and limitations, see this analysis from our Coalition partner Chicago Appleseed.
A binding court order instructing courts in Cook County to stop jailing people only on the basis that they cannot afford to pay a money bond is one of the our best pathways to victory. A court decision declaring wealth-based jailing to be unconstitutional would give defense attorneys the ability to challenge unaffordable bonds in court and provide precedent for similar challenges in other jurisdictions. In 2016, CCBF referred two plaintiffs for a class-action lawsuit filed by Civil Rights Corps, Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, and Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick, & Dym, Ltd. The plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of their pretrial incarceration based only on inability to pay money bond in Cook County. Though the lawsuit was ultimately dismissed on procedural grounds in 2017, it did pressure Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans to issue General Order 18.8A. This local court rule instructs judges to set money bonds only in amounts that people can afford to pay, thus facilitating their pretrial release. While the order directly led to the number of people incarcerated in Cook County dropping by more than 1,400 people in three months, many judges are still disregarding the order and thousands remain locked up in Cook County Jail on unaffordable money bonds over one year after the order took effect. CCBF continues to work with the original litigation team and our partner community organizations to explore opportunities for impact litigation on behalf of people incarcerated on money bond in the state of Illinois.
In December 2017, the Illinois Supreme Court of Illinois formed a commission to investigate the state’s pretrial practices. The commission is made up of system stakeholders and policymakers from across Illinois and will release its final report with findings and recommendations for reform in December 2019. Previously, CCBF and our partners submitted a letter to the Supreme Court supporting a Supreme Court Rule that would limit money bonds to amounts immediately payable, thus eliminating wealth-based pretrial incarceration in Illinois. CCBF believes that the commission will find the state’s money bond system to be unconstitutional, as other legal scholars have. CCBF and our partners in the Coalition to End Money Bond continue to organize people across the state to ensure that permanent and transformative bail reform is adopted.
Since 2013, the number of people incarcerated in Cook County Jail has dropped by 44%, but the Sheriff’s budget is 28% higher. We must divest from incarceration and invest in our communities.