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End Of Cash Bail Will Move Forward In Chicago Despite Downstate Judge’s Ruling, Officials Say

All state counties, including Cook County, will abolish cash bail Jan. 1, as the case makes it way up the court system, a spokesperson for the Illinois Attorney General's Office said.

A member of Asian Americans Advancing Justice at a protest against cash bail in September 2020.
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CHICAGO — The Illinois SAFE-T Act will still go into effect Jan. 1 in Chicago and Cook County despite a downstate judge’s ruling that struck down parts of it.

In a Wednesday ruling, Kankakee County Chief Judge Thomas W. Cunnington sided with various sheriffs and prosecutors who claimed the pretrial release provision of the law was unconstitutional. Gov. JB Pritzker signed it into law in 2021.

Cunnington’s decision spans more than 60 lawsuits across the state that argued the state Legislature interfered with the judiciary process and violated separation of powers when it passed a measure to eliminate cash bail. But the judge only targeted the portion of the law that would end cash bail.

But all state counties, including Cook County, will abolish cash bail Jan. 1, as the case makes it way up the court system, said state attorney general spokesperson April McLaren. The recent ruling will immediately apply to individual cases involved in the lawsuit, McLaren said.

The state will appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, state Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in a Wednesday news release.

Despite widespread misinformation on social media, the SAFE-T Act does not mean jails would empty out or judges would lose their authority to detain someone who poses a danger. It removes cash bail as a standard in pre-trial procedures.

Advocates for the Safe-T Act say eliminating cash bail would be more equitable for people — particularly those who are low-income or are from disproportionally policed communities — who have not been convicted of crimes but remain in prison because they can’t afford bail.

Others have said the act will make it harder for those charged with violent crimes — who would normally have the means to quickly post hefty bails — to get back on the street.

In Cunnington’s 36-page opinion, he wrote that only judges have “independent, inherent authority to deny or revoke bail to ‘preserve the orderly process of criminal procedure.'”

Pritzker said in a Wednesday statement that Illinois must “replace an antiquated criminal justice system.”

“We cannot and should not defend a system that fails to keep people safe by allowing those who are a threat to their community the ability to simply buy their way out of jail,” Pritzker said. “[I] look forward to the Illinois Supreme Court taking up the appeal as soon as possible.”

Benjamin Ruddell, director of criminal justice reform at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a Wednesday statement that the ruling doesn’t have the power to uphold cash bail across the state.

Ruddell said other objections to the SAFE-T Act were swept aside, a win for its supporters. Parts of the SAFE-T Act have already been in effect for years, said gubernatorial spokesperson Alex Gough.

“We are confident that money bond ultimately will be eliminated across the entire state,” Ruddell said.

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