On my drive home yesterday, I heard a news story on the radio. The report indicated that the Illinois Supreme Court had just upheld a law completely eliminating financial conditions of release in the Prairie State – apparently making it the first state in the country to abolish cash bail. The story didn’t detail the legal arguments at issue in the case, or even who had challenged the law. Given the national interest in bail reform, I thought the Illinois case might be a harbinger of things to come elsewhere, so I looked into it. This post briefly summarizes what I learned.
Philadelphia’s recently elected district attorney implemented a No-Cash-Bail reform policy, providing that the district attorney’s office would stop asking for cash bail for defendants charged with 25 misdemeanor and felony offenses. A study of that policy change found, among other things, that it led to an increase in defendants released with no monetary or other conditions, a decrease in the number of defendants who spent at least one night in jail, but no accompanying change in failures to appear (FTAs) or recidivism. Aurelie Ouss & Megan Stevenson, Evaluating the Impacts of Eliminating Prosecutorial Requests for Cash Bail (George Mason Legal Studies Research Paper No. LS 19-08, Feb. 17, 2019). Those skeptical of eliminating cash bail have argued that taking a monetary incentive out of the system would result in higher FTAs and increases in pretrial crime. Id. at 5. The new study undermines those assertions.