On January 26, 2023, HSPRD attorneys Matthew Piers, Kate Schwartz, and Margaret Truesdale, together with the Roger Baldwin Foundation of ACLU, filed a motion for leave to file an amicus brief in the Illinois Supreme Court in support of the Pretrial Fairness Act, on behalf of the 37 member organizations of the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice and 389 other signers, including researchers, elected officials, and community, civil rights, and policy organizations. The proposed amicus brief supports the Illinois Attorney General’s Office’s appeal of a Kankakee County Circuit Court judge’s ruling that sided with state’s attorneys and sheriffs who sued Illinois leadership over the elimination of money bonds as a condition of pretrial release. The amicus brief presents social science research and other evidence rebutting two false premises underlying the Circuit Court’s ruling: (1) that ending money bail threatens public safety, and (2) that requiring people to pay money bonds accomplishes any legitimate purpose of bail.
“The use of money bail as a condition of release is a perfect storm of bad public policy. It is ineffective, racist, and extremely expensive,”said Piers. “Since the Pretrial Fairness Act makes safety the primary determinant of whether a person is jailed or released before trial, rather than access to wealth, it replaces an illogical and deeply harmful bail system with one that will be just and effective. The data and research presented in this brief show that money bond has never made our communities safer and in fact has likely been making them less safe.”
HSPRD—including Piers and Schwartz individually, along with former HSPRD partner, Chirag Badlani (now the Executive Director of Alphawood Foundation Chicago)—pioneered the push to end money bail in Cook County beginning in 2016, when they challenged the constitutionality of the County’s monetary bail system in a lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court. Following this lawsuit, the movement to end money bond throughout Illinois continued to grow. Years later, the Pretrial Fairness Act—which eliminates money bail statewide—was passed with support from over 100 organizations, legislators, policy advocates, and law enforcement and was signed into law in 2021. The Act was set to take effect on January 1, 2023, but, just four days before this effective date, a circuit court ruled the Act’s elimination of money bond unconstitutional, which spurred the Illinois Supreme Court to pause implementation of the Act to ensure its uniform application across the state.
“The eradication of money bail in Illinois is long overdue,” said Schwartz. “Tens of thousands of presumptively innocent people are unnecessarily jailed every year in our state, merely because they lack the funds to pay for their release. People put in that untenable position are far more likely to plead guilty purely out of desperation, in order to return to their homes, their families, their jobs, and other aspects of their lives. Convicting people because of desperation instead of guilt only furthers the cycle of destabilization that makes communities more dangerous.”
The amicus brief highlights the many ways in which wealth-based pretrial jailing has destabilized the lives of people across Illinois. Pretrial incarceration has devastating impacts on the people incarcerated and their families, leading to job loss, housing instability, damage to family and community relationships, and lack of physical and mental health care, and these harmful consequences can lead to acts of desperation that violate the law.
Indeed, the amicus brief outlines studies showing that pretrial incarceration is correlated with increased rearrest rates in the months and years that follow release from incarceration, which indicates that the increase in pretrial detention caused by money bail has actually made communities—mostly communities of color that are already burdened by violence—less safe. It presents data showing that, tellingly, jurisdictions where money bond has been virtually eliminated or drastically reduced have not experienced the increase in rates of rearrest or failures to appear that opponents to bail reform baselessly predicted. The brief cites data showing that the single most effective tool in reducing failure-to-appear rates is court date reminders—not the threat of forfeiting bail money.
“The studies show that whether people are subjected to monetary conditions or not, they tend to appear in court and remain law abiding at similar rates,” said Truesdale. “Money bail simply is not effective at preventing either pretrial rearrests or pretrial failures to appear at scheduled court dates, which are the very purposes of our bail system. The extraordinary negative consequences of this utterly ineffective tool cannot continue to be ignored in our criminal legal system.”