Cash bail, or the practice of paying a sum of money to the state in order to bail yourself out of prison, has been a controversial practice for a long time. And in Illinois, under pressure from a Black Lives Matter chapter from Bloomington, Governor J. B. Pritzker signed a bill ending cash bail in its entirety by 2023, becoming the first state in the United States to do so. Aside from those championing racial justice, this bill has also brought celebration to those on the political left. However, many critics argue that this move will increase crime in the state, with some even drawing parallels to “The Purge.”
Cash bail is neither a universal practice, nor an old one. Most countries have some sort of bail as a way to let their less dangerous criminals be free before proper trial. Whilst many countries, especially those once ruled under English common law, accept cash as a form of bail, there are often other options in place for a detainee to receive bail. However, only in the United States and the Philippines cash bail is often the only option for citizens to walk free. And in the United States there is an incredibly profitable industry around bail.
Most obviously, with cash bail comes an incentive to jail people. Cash bail inevitably makes money for the state and when not regulated properly can incentivize the state to detain more people. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, over 70 percent of the U.S. jail population are pre-trial detainees; people who have never had the chance to prove their innocence. Also, marginalized families tend to make up the majority of these detainees. These are the groups of people who are often already poorer than the general population and are unable to pay for bond.
For those who can’t immediately afford bail, there is a predatory bail bond industry that is legal in 46 states, an industry which makes 2 billion dollars a year according to a CNBC evaluation. The bail bond industry makes its money by both direct nonrefundable payment, and repossession of collateral that a detainee may assign. It is then no surprise when it is this exact industry that tends to push the hardest against bail reform, according to a report by the ACLU.
So what can an Illinois detainee expect now? Coming 2023, Illinois residents will no longer have their pre-trial detention determined by the wealth of their family. Instead, most crimes will not have the detainee held for detention, period. And for the rest of the crimes, judges will make the determination, based on the history and likelihood of flight of the detainee. Indeed, the elimination of cash bail is a victory for both racial and class-based justice, and will not have any purge alarms sounding any time soon.