In early 2021, the Pretrial Fairness Act was passed by the Illinois legislature and signed into law. The measure, which ends the use of money bond and transforms the state’s pretrial legal system, goes into effect in January of 2023.  The Pretrial Fairness Act aims to restore the presumption of innocence and reduce hardship visited upon hundreds of people who are held in jail awaiting trial simply because they are unable to afford the monetary bond for their release. In Cook County (the state’s largest county), two-thirds of those jailed before conviction would be free if they were able to afford monetary bond. The Pretrial Fairness Act will allow these individuals to continue to work, care for their family and contribute to society while awaiting trial. 

Implementing the Pretrial Fairness Act is critical to addressing mass incarceration and racial disparities in Illinois’ criminal legal system.  Evidence shows that the use of money bonds exacerbates racial disparities, more often leading to the detention of people of color. Spending even a few days in jail can completely destabilize a person’s life, and when someone is held in custody before their case is heard, they are more likely to be convicted and to receive a longer sentence.

The ACLU of Illinois is a member of the Coalition to End Money Bond, a group of organizations with the shared goal of stopping the large-scale jailing of people simply because they were unable to pay a monetary bond. Together with our partners in the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice, the Coalition is working to implement the Pretrial Fairness Act all across the State of Illinois.  Find more about the Coalition and Network here

To explore how the money bond system can impact someone’s life, Lavette Mayes shared her experience of being incarcerated on an unaffordable bond in Chicago. Watch her story here.

Lavette Mayes was also featured on an episode of our podcast TALKING LIBERTIES. In the episode she was joined by Sharlyn Grace, an attorney and expert on this topic. You can listen to TALKING LIBERTIES: The Price of Cash Bail here.

Learn more at pretrialfairness.org

Below are some talking points on the Pretrial Fairness Act:

  • The Pretrial Fairness Act assures that the criminal legal system treats people accused of a crime as innocent until proven guilty in the fashion the system contemplates.
  • The Pretrial Fairness Act means that a person’s access to wealth will no longer determine whether they are free or locked up before trial. That is more fair.
  • Under the Pretrial Fairness Act, people will continue to work, maintain their housing and insurance coverage and not lose custody of their children.
  • There is no evidence that forcing someone to pay a money bond increases the likelihood that someone appears for their court proceedings.
  • Jail increases recidivism and decreases public safety over time. The Pretrial Fairness Act will ensure that pretrial incarceration is used only as a last resort to ensure community safety and the person’s appearance in court.