Cash bail is ending in Illinois. Here’s what you need to know.

With the Illinois Supreme Court ruling it Constitutional, the controversial Pretrial Fairness Act changes virtually everything about detaining criminal defendants before their trials — starting now.

Advocates say it ends a cash bail system that punished the poor who were merely accused of crimes, traumatized their families and pressured them to accept plea bargains they otherwise would not have. Critics say it will allow those who should be locked up to go free, posing a public safety risk to the community.

But ready or not, the changes were approved by the General Assembly, signed by the governor, survived court challenges and are now the law.

Here’s what you should know.

What is the Pretrial Fairness Act?

Illinois is the first state to legislate the elimination of cash bail as part of the Pretrial Fairness Act, upending one of the fundamental ways criminal courts operate and replacing it with something entirely different. The new paradigm eliminates cash bail and assumes folks accused, but not convicted of crimes, should be released before trial.

More: The end of cash bail is coming. Here’s how Rockford area court systems are preparing.

Will everyone go free after being arrested and charged?

No. The law provides that people arrested for certain crimes can still be detained in jail as they await trial. Those who are released and are re-arrested while awaiting trial can also be jailed.

What determines who is detained and who is released?

People accused of a specific crimes cited in the law like murder, rape, domestic violence, hurting someone while driving under the influence and gun crime among others can be detained before trial. Prosecutors must show that the defendant is a flight risk or a public safety danger to keep them locked up until trial.

Will those in jail now be released?

Defendants being held in jail now on money bonds — the old system — can petition the court to determine if they should be released under the new law. A judge will decide if they pose a danger and should be kept in jail or can be released until trial.

Expect more notices to appear

Under the law, police, in more cases, will be asked to issue a citation with a notice to appear in court rather than making an arrest on misdemeanor charges. In addition, if someone misses a court proceeding a judge may issue a warrant. But instead of arresting that person, police would deliver a notice to appear.

Will police still arrest people?

In some cases. Police will have discretion on whether to issue a citation or make an arrest. Officers can arrest those charged with felonies or Class A misdemeanors if they pose a threat to the community or break the law after already getting cited.

Why did advocates want these changes?

Advocates for the reform including the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice argue that the cash bail system allows a violent but wealthy defendant to go free while a poor but non-violent offender was held in jail. They argue it perpetuates mass incarceration, unfairly pressures defendants to plead guilty and exacerbates the root causes of crime.

What do critics say?

Those who want to preserve cash bail in Illinois argue that it makes sure defendants show up for court proceedings, and without it, that criminals will have more chances to commit violent crimes.

Jeff Kolkey can be reached at (815) 987-1374, via email at and on Twitter @jeffkolkey.

This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: Cash bail ends in Illinois. Here’s what you need to know.

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