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Gov. Pritzker wants to end cash bail system

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — Governor J.B. Pritzker has made criminal justice reform one of the key pillars of his administration. One of the changes he hopes to make is to end the practice of cash bail in Illinois.

The Governor says the system disproportionately forces low income people of color into a cycle of unearned detention and instability. He also hopes the JEO (Justice, Equity and Opportunity) Initiative can reform low level drug sentences and focus on substance abuse treatment programs.

"I think we've learned over the last 30 years now that just throwing everybody in prison doesn't solve the problem," Gov. Pritzker says.

Back in Winnebago County, local representatives are split on whether ending cash bail is a good decision or not. 13 News also spoke to an official for the Winnebago County Sheriff's Office on how it could affect Winnebago County.

Cash bail brings in a lot of money from the county.

"A Class A misdemeanor is $1,000," Mark Karner, the Chief Deputy for the Winnebago County Sheriff's Office, says. "What that means is you have to pay 10 percent of that in cash to secure your release."

The money is split between the Circuit Clerk's Office and the Sheriff's Office. Cash bail brings in more than $500,000 annually, a revenue source the county could lose if the state decides to end cash bail. Chief Deputy Karner also points out there are other potential drawbacks.

"Unless there are circumstances that show you are really likely to either flee or you pose a danger to the public, then you just get secured on your signature, that could be a real big deal," Karner explains.

But Democratic Senator Steve Stadelman says that system is already somewhat in place.

In 2017, legislation was passed that gives a judge discretion to issue a recognizance bond. It's issued to low risk offenders who don't have the resources to pay a bond in cash.

"Cash bail, or not having to use cash bail, is already an option currently under state law," Sen. Stadelman explains. "I guess the question is, how much the governor wants to expand the ability to not have to use cash bail?"

Sen. Stadelman says he'll wait and see what the exact wording of the legislation is before he decides how he'll vote.

But Republican Senator Dave Syverson has already made up his mind. He is not for ending cash bail and he says that by getting rid of it, the state is giving criminals more power, while even fewer will show up in court.

"The reason for the bond is to give a tool to make sure that either they're going to show up, or that someone who is bonding them out is going to make sure they show up," Sen. Syverson says. "Just eliminating that is going to create a problem."

While the system to replace cash bail isn't clear, Sen. Syverson believes legislation will be introduced in Springfield soon, but ending cash bail is just one of many initiatives the Pritzker Administration will try to pass this year.

There is no concrete legislation just yet.

Richard Bodee

Richard Bodee is a reporter at WREX. He joined the 13 WREX team in June 2019 after graduating from DePaul University with a Master’s degree in broadcast journalism.

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