(February 22, 2021) CHICAGO – The Bail Project issued the following statement today in response to the signing of The Pretrial Fairness Act by Governor JB Pritzker:
“The Bail Project commends the Legislative Black Caucus and their colleagues in the Illinois legislature for taking this important criminal justice reform effort to the finish line and rightfully reacting to constituent calls to end money bail and strengthen police accountability. The Bail Project respects the many years of coalition advocacy and education that brought Illinois to this day and stands ready to begin the important work required to implement this reform, particularly those provisions that eliminate cash bail. Since 2019, The Bail Project has provided free bail assistance and pretrial support to over 1,000 low-income residents of Cook County. They have returned to 95.3% of their court dates even though they had no financial obligation to the courts or us. That data proves that cash bail is not only unjust but unnecessary, and The Pretrial Fairness Act presents a historic opportunity to try a new approach.
Unfortunately, the Act also represents a missed opportunity to stand against the panacea of pretrial algorithms. Also known as “risk assessment” tools, pretrial algorithms promise to leverage the power of science to promote a fairer legal system. Yet, they have not proven to be the cure-all for the ills of our cash bail system. As social scientists, statisticians, and legal scholars have noted, there are inherent flaws in these tools. Pretrial algorithms characterize people based on arrest and other criminal justice data that are already deeply tainted with racial bias. As a result, they disproportionately mischaracterize Black Americans as high risk, only perpetuating racial disparities. The cost of those errors is high, and the bill is disproportionately paid in the currency of Black Americans’ liberty.
At The Bail Project, we remain committed to demonstrating, in Illinois and beyond, that a needs-based approach that tackles the root causes of criminal justice involvement is ultimately a more effective, equitable, and humane pretrial alternative to both cash bail and algorithms. We look forward to offering our model of Community Release with Support as a complement to these pretrial reforms. When, instead of incarceration during the pretrial process, we connect people to services – such as substance use treatment, mental health specialists, housing and employment – we provide stability that improves their lives, our communities, and ultimately leads to greater public safety.