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Illinois is now the first state to fully abolish cash bail through an act of the legislature as part of a major criminal justice overhaul.
Illinois became the first state to eliminate cash bail legislatively on Monday, turning the state into a testing ground to see what, if any, ramifications come from eliminating the process.

The end of cash bail was supposed to take effect on Jan. 1, but the law was put on hold while the Illinois Supreme Court reviewed the measure. The high court upheld the state law in July, ruling that the state constitution does not require cash bail in criminal trials.

The elimination of cash bail in Illinois rolled out on Monday. It's a move that has been heavily criticized by conservatives and Republicans who worry about the law's impact during a period of rising crime rates. Prosecutors, court experts, and city lawmakers continue to debate over how to balance public safety and maintaining an equal criminal justice system.

The SAFE-T Act, along with eliminating money as a factor for release, intended to level the playing field and allocate more time to defendants who wish to make their case against pretrial detention or supervision orders.

Before the law, bonds would be required to be paid in full, or some judges would order a deposit during brief bond hearings. Under the new system, there will be an initial appearance in which most defendants will be released with certain conditions depending on the severity of the charges against them. For more serious cases, there will be a court call for detention hearings in which prosecutors typically seek to keep dangerous defendants incarcerated pending trial.

"We're expecting them to be a little more in depth than the current 60-second bond hearing," Takenya Nixon, an attorney supervisor for the Cook County public defender's office, told the Chicago Tribune. "It's ... no longer one-sided."

Supporters of ending cash bail have said defendants should not be forced to stay in jail because they can't afford to pay.

"The money bond system wrongly tied access to financial resources to pretrial freedom. The result has been countless individuals — mostly from Black and Brown communities — spending days, weeks, months, years in jail just for being poor," Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said, according to CBS News.

Lake County State's Attorney Eric Rinehart told the Chicago Tribune that his office is already receiving requests for the county's 50 pending murder cases.

With the elimination of cash bail, hearings should now result in dangerous defendants being incarcerated since they will not have the option to pay money to get out, Rinehart said, echoing arguments made by other proponents of bail reform.

Defense attorneys, who often were paid out of posted bond payments, may now ask for upfront retainer fees more often, Rinehart added.

"This effort to detain those who hold a real threat to our public rather than detain those who are simply poor is the right thing to do," Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, who is a vocal supporter of ending cash bail, said, according to CBS News.

While the law still allows judges to determine whether a defendant should be incarcerated ahead of trial, opponents of the law say it will do nothing to curb violence and have slammed Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-IL) and his allies for being soft on crime.

A 2020 study of the end to cash bail in Cook County, specifically, found that it "was associated with a slight increase in the odds of [failing to appear in court] but was not associated with the odds of new criminal activity or new violent criminal activity."
Rachel Schilke is a Breaking News Reporter for the Washington Examiner