Crusader staff report
It started with a “rags to riches” businessman and ended up in the state’s highest office. Now, the Bail Reform Act is a law.
On Friday, Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law legislation that would allow people charged with nonviolent misdemeanors and minor felonies to be released from jail without paying the high costs of bail.
Dozens of Chicago’s Black clergy and elected officials cheered as the governor made the final step to a campaign that began when millionaire Willie Wilson began championing for the rights of non-violent offenders. He stood with Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and watched Rauner sign the new legislation at the Chicago Baptist Institute International, 5120 S. King Drive.
“What a wonderful day for justice and fairness for everyone in the state of Illinois,” Rauner said as leaders cheered. “What this does is provide fairness to folks who really are just struggling to make ends meet, who commit a minor offense and should not be forced to languish in jail,” Rauner said. The people of Illinois deserve jobs, fairness and justice and too many people have to resort to committing minor offenses because there is not enough economic opportunities. “This is a serious issue for not only us as African Americans but for this country,” Wilson said.
For years many have languished for weeks, sometimes months in Cook County jail because they cannot afford to post bail. Many are forced to wait for extended periods of time because of delays in court hearings. Last year Wilson paid the bail out of his own pocket to get non-violent offenders released from jail.
Under the new Bail Reform Act, if a judge sets monetary bond for someone who is unable to come up with the money, a rehearing on the bail must be held within seven days. The law also specifies that cash bail is not necessarily required to get released from jail.
In a separate move towards overhauling Cook County’s cash bond system, on Monday, June 12, prosecutors began to recommend that some people charged with minor offenses be released pending the resolution of their cases, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office announced Monday. And earlier this year, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced that prosecutors would no longer oppose the release of some jailed detainees held for non-violent offenses because they cannot afford to pay cash bonds of up to $1,000 at a time.
But Rauner’s approval of the Bail Reform Act is being viewed as the biggest move towards ending a practice that for years was considered an injustice for those poor offenders who unlike their affluent counterparts, lacked the resources to get out of jail.
“We are taking an important step in improving our state’s criminal justice system,” Governor Rauner said. “Our system must work equally for all our residents, in every community, regardless of their income. We should be focused on putting people in jobs not jail.”
“Pretrial release must not focus on the defendants’ ability to pay,” Senator Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, said. “This new law allows the courts to look at the threat to the public safety or their risk of failure to appear.”