September 17, 2023

Tomorrow, Illinois implements the Pretrial Fairness Act and becomes the first state in the country to completely end the use of money bail. This historic moment is the result of over six years of organizing by members of the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice. Since this campaign began in Cook County in 2016, tens of thousands of people across our state have taken action to secure this victory and end one of the most blatant racial and economic injustices in our criminal legal system. 

The Pretrial Fairness Act provides Illinois communities with the opportunity to begin healing from the decades of damage caused by wealth-based incarceration. Every year, the money bond system extracted millions of dollars from our state’s most marginalized communities. For years, community members were forced to pool resources together to purchase their loved ones’ freedom while they awaited trial. Despite these efforts, tens of thousands of people lost their jobs, housing, and even custody of their children simply because they couldn’t afford to pay for their freedom. Tomorrow, Illinois begins the process of reducing pretrial jailing by taking the price tag off of one of our most fundamental rights: the presumption of innocence. 

As Illinois reduces the number of people incarcerated in county jails, it is essential that we work together to ensure that any economic benefits from these changes are passed on to the communities most harmed by pretrial jailing. Across Illinois, Black people have been disproportionately jailed by unaffordable money bonds. Communities most impacted by crime have also been those most impacted by wealth-based jailing; this has created a cycle of trauma that we have the opportunity to stop. As a state, we must ensure that the money once used to jail those who couldn’t buy their freedom is funneled into essential services like healthcare, community-based substance use and mental health treatment, affordable housing, and quality education.

This moment also represents an important step towards ending mass incarceration. Money bond does not just increase the number of people being jailed awaiting trial, it has also played a central role in rising prison populations. People jailed pretrial are more likely to be convicted and serve longer sentences than people who await trial in the community. Over time, the Pretrial Fairness Act has the potential to reduce the number of people incarcerated in Illinois’ prison system. 

Community organizations across the state now begin the long, hard work of holding the courts accountable to the changes included in the Pretrial Fairness Act. People across Illinois are gearing up to observe court and work with their local stakeholders to ensure reforms are properly implemented and achieve their primary goal of reducing pretrial incarceration. The Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice is also preparing to stop the expansion of other forms of pretrial punishment such as house arrest with electronic monitoring and pretrial supervision. The forces that have relentlessly tried to stop the Pretrial Fairness Act from taking effect will not be deterred by the law’s implementation, and we must remain vigilant. Our thousands of members across the state stand ready to work with our legislative allies to protect the Pretrial Fairness Act  and stop any further attempts to roll it back or repeal it. 

On this momentous occasion, the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice thanks our legislative champions, the stakeholders who’ve been working together to prepare for implementation, and the tens of thousands of people across our state who repeatedly took action to pass and protect the Pretrial Fairness Act. To our supporters around the country, we thank you and are ready to stand with you as you work towards ending money bail and winning pretrial freedom in your communities.