The People is our section for all opinions concerning Black Chicago. In this opinion piece, DePaul University Assistant Professor Daniel Schober says there is insurmountable proof that cash bail does more damage to entire communities than good. Submit your opinion to

Bail is an ineffective practice for ensuring that those charged with crimes show up to court. The Illinois Crime Reform Bill awaits Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature to become law. If signed, the bill would make Illinois the first state in the country to eliminate cash bail and reform various aspects of the criminal justice system and represents important changes to the justice system. If Pritzker is serious about social and racial justice, then he must sign the Illinois Crime Reform Bill. 

The Illinois State’s Attorney’s Association opposes the bill, saying it would weaken public safety, but there is no evidence to suggest this. However, there is insurmountable proof that cash bail does more damage to those arrested and their entire communities than good.

Approximately 250,000 people incarcerated in Illinois await trial each year and the majority are unable to afford bail. They are disproportionately Black and most arrests are for nonviolent crimes such as property damage, shoplifting and drug possession. 

A typical bail hearing lasts only a minute or two and the magistrate has broad authority to set bail as they see fit. Research shows that those who do not post bail are more likely to be convicted at their hearing because they tend to plead guilty in cases that would have otherwise not proceeded to court in order to avoid more time waiting in jail. These plea deals come with harsher sentences for petty crime.

Adam Hollingsworth, the cowboy who went viral for riding a horse on the streets of Chicago, brought awareness to this issue in summer 2020. He was 19 and arrested with a gun charge found during a random search. Unable to post bail and having spent a month in jail, he pleaded guilty to the charge against the advice of his lawyer because “he just wanted to go home.” Afterwards he struggled to find work with a criminal record, and this led to years of depression. 

Hollingsworth story is unfortunately common among the nearly one million people who face discrimination during pre-trial detention. The majority of those awaiting trial in jail are Black or Brown, urban, and poor. When unable to pay a cash bail defendants face job loss, housing uncertainty, and challenges to child custody

This impacts the physical and mental health of the individual and their family. More than half of the people in state jails are parents to minors. Parental incarceration is linked to behavioral issues, low education, teenage pregnancy and crime, which further reinforces the cycle of poverty. The inability to pay a cash bail sets off a series of chain reactions that reverberate through a community for years to come. 

Cash bail creates a two-tiered system of racial injustice. Those who can afford to pay, do. They avoid jail time and walk away from the stigma associated with a criminal record. They are also usually white. This undercuts a foundational principle of our justice system — innocent until proven guilty. Beyond this racial injustice, the bail system lacks logic. 

The original intention of cash bail was to ensure that those who were arrested showed up for trial. However, a recent analysis substantiates that the most common factors to not showing up for the trial are due to transportation in getting to court rather than efforts to evade the law. Supports, such as reminders and help planning the logistics of travel to court, can substantially decrease rates of failing to appear in court

To be sure, those who oppose eliminating cash bail suggest crime will increase. However, there is no evidence suggesting this. Last year, New York Police Department Commissioner Shea and Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to link the reversal of cash bail to increased crime using statistics based on one months’ worth of data. 

The ACLU responded with a swift critique and countered by pointing to low crime rates and a reduction in jail population over two decades. Most people awaiting trial face non-violent offenses and do not commit crimes prior to trial

If someone is being charged with a violent crime, judges still have the power to hold them in jail without bail. A few localities, such as Cook County, have moved to bail based on income (and jail for more serious offenses), but some defendants, such as those with a minor offense but a violent past, may still face the precarious position of pretrial jail on charges that do not result in a conviction. 

Cash bail harms the most vulnerable citizens and, in turn, has the potential to harm all members of the community. In order to begin eliminating racial and socioeconomic disparities and ensure a fair justice system for all people in Illinois, Gov. Pritzker must eliminate cash bail by signing the Illinois Crime Reform Bill.

is an Assistant Professor at DePaul University and is a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.