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New no cash bail law provides hope for those in Chicago who’ve been unable to pay

The cash bail system will be eliminated by 2023, and advocates who have pushed for the change say they will be watching for its implementation.

Flonard Wrencher, 57, sits in his South Austin home after work, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. Wrencher was incarcerated for two months before the Chicago Community Bond Fund posted his bond that allowed him to be out pending his charges.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

When Lavette Mayes was arrested, she thought she would soon be released after telling police her side of an altercation that happened amid a divorce and custody battle.

She ended up spending more than a year at the Cook County Jail because she was unable to pay her bond, she said.

“I walked in totally blind,” said Mayes, 51, about her 2015 arrest. “I had never been arrested a day in my life.”

That experience prompted Mayes to join the Chicago Community Bond Fund, which has been demanding reforms, including the end of pretrial detention for those facing criminal charges. The group posted Mayes’ bond after it was reduced to $9,500, she said.

The sweeping criminal justice reform bill signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker will end the cash bail system by January 2023. Defendants typically needed to come up with 10% of their bond to be released from jail pending the criminal case. In Mayes’ case, the $9,500 the fund paid was 10% of the reduced $95,000 bond, according to court records.

Those opposed to the law have raised concerns about safety and how it will affect law enforcement. Pritzker described the law as “dismantling the systemic racism” that plagues communities across Illinois.

Mayes said she thinks the law will bring “hope into the Black and Brown community,” which has been impacted by pretrial incarceration. Statistics from the Cook County Jail for Thursday showed that 75% of the jailed population was Black and 16% of the population was Latino. Statistics for a year ago — Feb. 25, 2020 — showed that 73% of the jailed population was Black, while nearly 16% of the jailed population was Latino.

Mayes said she and other activists will be watching the courts for the implementation of the law. And she hopes the change will spark a redistribution of investment into neighborhoods.

“We need to start building communities back up,” Mayes said. “People who are coming home or have charges, making sure they are able to still work, provide for their families and try to put programs into the communities.”

Lavette Mayes
Provided

Her time in jail cost Mayes her housing, her transportation business, and she didn’t see her children during that year, she said. When she bonded out, it came with the stipulation that she be placed on electronic monitoring until her case was resolved. Mayes said the strict conditions made her feel like the home she was living in was a jail, and it dragged her family into the restrictions.

She later pleaded guilty in her case because of the emotional toll it and the electronic monitoring were taking on her family, she said.

In her case, she thinks counseling would have been a better solution than jail.

Flonard Wrencher, 57, of Chicago, is also a member of the Chicago Community Bond Fund. The group bailed him out of jail after two months because he was unable to post his bond, according to Wrencher and court records.

He was recently watching TV when he saw that the legislation had passed and remembers feeling “absolutely amazing.” To him, it feels like getting the bill passed was a “long, hard-fought battle.”

The end of cash bail will make a big difference for those facing criminal charges, Wrencher said.

While he was in jail, Wrencher said he felt stressed about his health and finances; during his incarceration his family had to pay for items from the commissary and for phone calls, he said.

“That’s money taken out of your family’s pocket,” Wrencher said. “It’s just a big burden.”

Flonard Wrencher, 57, sits in his South Austin home after work, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. Wrencher has advocated for the end of the cash bail system after the Chicago Community Bond Fund posted his bond.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

After he bonded out, Wrencher said simple things made a difference, like being able to wear your own clothes to court versus a jail uniform. He thinks it also affected the outcome of the case, explaining he would have been pressured to enter a guilty plea with a harsher sentence if he had remained in jail.

“I’m very happy that we reached this point,” Wrencher said of the new law. “I hope everything goes right. I just want to see it, so I can believe it with my own eyes because it’s been a long time.”

Brittany, 30, said she was pleased to hear about the end of cash bail. In 2017, she had just given birth to the family’s fourth son when her husband, Timothy, was arrested and wasn’t able to bond out of jail. The couple asked that their last name not be used, because Timothy, 34, is hoping his case will be sealed.

She started delivering food through third-party apps and delivered flowers to make up for the lost income, and the family also moved in with a relative.

“I had to hustle and bustle — 12-hour days where my children would be in school,” Brittany said. “Pick them up, get dinner made, and do it all over again.”

The Chicago Community Bond Fund paid for Timothy to be released after the amount was lowered to $5,000, according to the fund and court records.

They both say they are happy to hear about the elimination of the cash bail system.

“I love it, and I think other states should also do it,” Timothy said.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.