Advocates gather in Will County to celebrate beginning of cashless bail

Supporters say it should lead to less jail time

Will County Board Member Destinee Ortiz, center, speaks Monday at a press conference staged outside the Will County Courthouse in Joliet by advocates celebrating the implementation of cashless bail in Illinois. Sep;t. 19, 2023.

Advocates celebrated the implementation of cashless bail in Will County and said they will be watching to see that it leads to less time in jail for defendants awaiting trial.

Monday was the first day that the provision of the Illinois SAFE-T Act calling for the elimination of cash bail was put into place statewide.

“We are here to celebrate a historic day in Illinois and Will County,” Briana Payton with the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice said at a news conference outside the Will County Courthouse in Joliet.

Payton was one of several speakers who decried part of a justice system that penalized people who were poor, Black or brown.

“People who were a danger to others could buy their freedom while those who could not afford a money bond languished in jail,” said state Sen. Rachel Ventura, D-Joliet, calling the previous system “de facto sentencing for being poor.”

Ventura was joined by Will County Board member Destinee Ortiz, D-Romeoville, who called the end of cash bail in Illinois “an enormous victory in the fight against racial and economic injustice.”

Ventura and another speaker said they would be watching to see that cashless bail is “properly implemented.”

They did not elaborate on what that meant. However, when asked later, Payton said advocates will monitor the court system to see what defendants are kept in jail before trial and whether judges make increased use of electronic monitoring as an alternative to cash bail.

Judges still have the authority to order defendants to be held in jail while they await trial, particularly if they are believed to pose a danger to the community. But the extent to which judges can keep potentially dangerous criminals in jail has been questioned by opponents of cashless bail.

Payton said the new system should lead to less jail time overall because defendants without money won’t be kept behind bars for lack of ability to pay bail.

“We need for the courts to implement it in such a way that people are not kept in jail unless they pose a threat to others,” Payton said.

She said her organization also opposes increased use of electronic monitoring of defendants now that cash bail is eliminated.

Electronic monitoring of defendants “really impacts people’s lives and imposes pretrial judgment on people when they await trial,” Payton said.