Michael J. Whitlock
According to wisevoter.com Illinois ranks number five among all states for incidents of violent crime and ranks 19th for total crimes committed. The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the Illinois Bail Reform Act, a new law banning the use of cash to secure the appearance in court by the accused while released from jail pending trial. The new law goes into effect September 18, 2023.
Illinois has not used bail bonds for decades. Prior to the new law, most defendants could deposit with the court 10% of the set bail in cash. What we refer to as the 90% discount. The new law will take the 90% discount to a 100% discount known as “zero bail”. Some would argue eliminating the requirement of bail makes the public safer. Really?
While efforts to eliminate the centuries old system of using secured bail to guarantee appearance in court have failed, they have had success in getting judges to release low level and non-violent offenders on zero bail. Success in effort has not been a success in result. As we have seen in Houston, Texas, zero bail on misdemeanor offenses and low-level felonies has been an utter failure. Those offenders required to post bail, in many cases, have multiple arrests and prior convictions. Illinois will soon begin releasing all offenders on zero bail with the belief they will appear for trial and that communities will be safer, meaning lower crime will result. This is like saying, if you remove two legs from a three-legged stool, the stool will still stand.
One of the oft overlooked components of posting a bail bond is the involvement of family and friends in the process. These families, friends and employers will purchase a bail bond on behalf of their family member, friend or employee and then agree to cosign the bond much like they would an auto loan. In doing so they now have skin in the game to ensure, along with the bail agent, the defendant appears for all required court dates. Should the defendant fail to appear for court, those same guarantors are responsible for returning the defendant to the custody of the court or risk paying a financial penalty equal to the amount of bail. Zero bail eliminates all involvement of the defendant’s circle of supporters leaving only government agencies to monitor the defendant’s whereabouts, produce the defendant for court or locate, and apprehend the absconding individual should they fail to appear.
Illinois legislators and citizenry, like New Mexico and New Jersey will soon rue the day they eliminated the use of secured bail naively believing it would magically make their communities safer. If we have learned anything as a society, it is that removing family from the process only brings chaos.
Elon Musk recently rebranded Twitter with the letter “X” while Illinois has rebranded their pre-trial release system with the number “0”. That is a product that will not live up to the hype.