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Could Pre-Trial Reforms Spell an End to Money Bail?

The practice of jailing alleged offenders because they can’t make bail could change in Illinois if those pushing for fairer treatment of the  quarter of a million people who pass through the state’s 92 jails each year get their way in December. That’s when the Supreme Court’s Commission on Pre-Trial Practices will make recommendations on the scope of reform that will serve as a guideline for state policymakers.

Advoocates that say money bond negatively impacts already disadvantaged communities have used a series of commission meetings to  press for changes to rules that leave many of those charged unable to pay ten-percent bond orders behind bars. Despite a Bail Reform Act that last year shifted the focus in bond hearings from the ability to pay, around 40 percent of inmates in Cook County jails are there because they can’t make the minimum.

In part the product of a nationwide campaign, the push for further reform in Illinois follows litigation brought by advocacy groups against local governments over their bail bond practices. A Pre-Trial Data Act submitted in March to the Illinois legislature that would create a database of bond orders in the state’s 102 counties remains in committee. The Supreme Court commission, empanelled in 2017, released preliminary findings at the end of last year.