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State legislators, community advocates rally in support of Pretrial Fairness Act

More than 400 community advocates rallied at the State Capitol in support of ending money bond in Illinois

As the veto session began on Nov. 16, 2022, elected officials and more than 400 community advocates from all corners of Illinois rallied at the state capitol and lobbied legislators for their continued support of the Pretrial Fairness Act, which makes the pretrial system more just by recentering the presumption of innocence and eliminating money bond so that people are no longer penalized for being poor.

According to an article shared by Stomping Ground Strategies, the Pretrial Fairness Act was passed as part of the SAFE-T Act to address public safety and the disparities experienced by Black, Brown, and low-come people who have been disproportionately impacted by Illinois’ dehumanizing money bond system.

Many community members that traveled to Springfield for this rally have experienced being held in jail pretrial because they couldn’t afford to pay bond and they are lobbying legislators to ensure Illinois no longer uses money bond as the biggest determinant of whether someone sits in jail for months before their trial.

“Too many people are sitting in jail pretrial simply because they can’t afford to pay a bond,” said State Sen. Robert Peters. “These are people who are already at a disadvantage, and being held pretrial means that they risk losing their jobs, housing, and custody of their children. Our opponents tried to use misinformation and fearmongering to scare voters, but the reality is that people from around Illinois understand the inequity and arbitrariness of weighing on wealth instead of evidence when deciding to lock people up Pretrial.”

In the current money bond system, judges make a decision whether or not to jail someone pretrial within a matter of minutes and with little to no evidence. They base their decisions primarily on whether or not someone can afford to pay the bond set by the courts, not on the risk posed by their release.

“Being held pretrial has a destabilizing effect on a person’s life and it actually increases the probability of being re-arrested,” said Tanya Watkins, executive director of Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL). “The Pretrial Fairness Act is a step towards ending cycles of systemic racism and poverty that have been perpetuated by our pretrial system and it will help mak our communities safer by allowing accused people who are not a danger to others return home to their communities, their jobs, and their families.”

There is no consistent formula that judges use to calculate bond. It is arbitrary and in many cases unaffordable and biased, as was recently exposed in a report outlining the experiences of court observers throughout Illinois.

“People who are asked to pay a bond they can’t afford are put in a position where they must decide to either sit in jail for months before their trial or accept a guilty plea so they can go home,” said Pastor Johnicer of Rockford Urban Ministries. “The Pretrial Fairness Act ensures that no one is forced to make those decisions and compromise their own innocence in exchange for keeping a job, seeking medical care, or retaining housing.”

Advocates distributed air fresheners, that were made by formerly incarcerated persons, with the slogan, “Smells Like Justice, the Pretrial Fairness Act is a Breath of Fresh Air” to remind legislators as they drive to and from Springfield that ending money bond in Illinois is about creating a more just criminal legal system that all Illinoisans can be proud of.

The Pretrial Fairness Act was written with feedback from multiple stakeholders, including victims and survivors groups, legislators, elected officials, community advocates, more than 100 community organizations, and law enforcement. It puts an end to money bond in Illinois starting Jan. 1, 2023.

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