In a tremendous victory for organizers, Illinois became, on September 18, the first state in the nation to end cash bail! Other states have sought to limit this widespread practice, which forces people to pay for release from jail while they await trial, but Illinois is the first to fully ban money bonds.
This is a major win for those who seek pretrial fairness and other common-sense reforms of criminal justice, as cash bail disproportionately burdens Black and Brown communities and keeps many behind bars for months or years simply because they are poor.
This is especially good news for The People’s Lobby and other organizations in the Illinois Network for Pretrial Fairness, which have been at the forefront of the fight to end money bail.
“This is a culmination of a fight that has lasted more than 7 years,” said Will Tanzman, executive director of TPL. “Thousands of People’s Lobby members, leaders, and activists took action in so many ways: organizing listening sessions and public meetings, knocking doors, pushing decision-makers to support the bill, and electing champions to the state legislature, including the bill’s sponsor, Illinois State Senator Robert Peters.”
This win, when combined with the violence-reduction strategies championed by Chicago’s newly-elected mayor Brandon Johnson, lays the foundation for a new model for public safety which no longer relies on mass incarceration. This can serve as an example for other cities and states around the nation.
Despite widespread support from religious and community leaders, the road to this victory in Illinois has been long and complex, as organizers have fought to overcome many attempts by opponents to crush the legislation.
In 2016, TPL helped elect Kim Foxx as Cook County State’s Attorney, which led to landmark pretrial reforms at the county level. TPL then joined other groups to form the Coalition to End Money Bond, which partnered with state lawmakers to introduce Illinois’ first bill to end money bond in 2017.
When that failed to pass, Robert Peters, a Southside resident and TPL’s political director, ran for and won a seat in Illinois’ State Senate. He now chairs the Senate’s Black Caucus, and in 2020 introduced a new version of the bill, the Pretrial Fairness Act.
When the Illinois legislature passed the bill in January of 2021, Illinois Republicans and the Fraternal Order of Police pulled out all the stops to crush criminal justice reform and its champions. They filed legal challenges with the Illinois Supreme Court, and spent over $40 million on a misinformation campaign with fake newspapers to derail the bill, claiming thousands of violent criminals would be released into the streets if the law took effect.
Peters, Tanzman and the TPL fought back, going door to door with allies from Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL) and other organizations to explain how the Pretrial Fairness Act would restore the presumption of innocence and end wealth-based discrimination for those accused of crimes, and increase protections for crime victims. And they won!
“I am extremely proud that our state’s highest court is prioritizing public safety over wealth,” Peters wrote when the Supreme Court knocked down these legal challenges in July, confirming the law would take effect. “This historic decision is the culmination of over a decade of organizing from countless grassroots organizations that deal directly with vulnerable communities in which cash bail has affected, including groups that support survivors of gender-based violence.”