Story at a glance

  • State lawmakers in Illinois passed a package of criminal justice reforms in a lame-duck session.
  • One of the measures included in the legislation will end cash bail, which defendants must pay to be released from detention before trial.
  • The reforms were spearheaded by the Illinois House Black Caucus.

A lame-duck session of the Illinois General Assembly passed a set of criminal justice reforms on Wednesday that is likely to outlast many of their terms in office. The omnibus bill, which is headed to the governor after it passed the Senate, paves a road to ending cash bail in the state among other sweeping changes.

"I have long held that an essential mark of good governance is a willingness to change the laws that have failed the people of Illinois," said Gov. J.B. Pritzker in a statement. "This criminal justice package carries with it the opportunity to shape our state into a lesson in true justice for the nation by abolishing cash bail, modernizing sentencing laws, instituting a certification and decertification system for police officers statewide, requiring body cameras, reforming crowd control response, and amplifying law enforcement training standards."


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The bill was a major win for the House's Black Caucus, which spearheaded the effort against Republican opposition.

“What we do know is that it is inhumane to subject anyone to pretrial detention before their hearing. In this country you are innocent before proven guilty,” state Rep. Justin Slaughter, whose district includes parts of Chicago, told the local NPR affiliate.

Cash bail is required from defendants before they can be released — or even charged with a crime — in order to ensure they appear for court. Research shows the pretrial risk assessments that courts use to determine the likelihood that someone will fail to appear for court or be arrested for a new crime perpetuate racism and are not reliably accurate. 


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Some more controversial reforms, including repealing qualified immunity status for law enforcement and changing collective bargaining agreements for police officers, did not make the final bill, which addresses other incarceration through the courts, police transparency and accountability, and citizens' rights. 

“This sort of thing should not be done in the waning hours of lame-duck session,” state Sen. Steve McClure said, according to NPR Illinois. “We should have had committee hearings, we should have allowed people to testify, we should’ve done this right.”  


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Published on Jan 14, 2021