Buoyed by last year’s passage of Illinois bail reform and early results of the bond system revamp on Cook County Jail, local advocates of the growing bail reform movement hope to propel that success to the national level.
Standing with U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., on Thursday in Austin on the West Side, the advocates announced his introduction in Congress of the Bail Fairness Act of 2018.
The bill recently introduced in the House Judiciary Committee would require states to release anyone charged with a misdemeanor on non-monetary conditions before court adjudication of their case. It was moved Wednesday to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.
“What we’re saying is many individuals charged with misdemeanor crimes, especially the poor, end up sitting in jail because they can’t pay bail. We are proposing that no state be allowed to hold these individuals in jail simply because they don’t have the money to pay,” said Davis, flanked by West Side pastors, politicians and businessmen.
“There is a serious movement nationwide on this. It all deals with the fact that we are the most incarcerated nation on the face of the earth,” said Davis, a longtime champion on prisoner re-entry issues.
With co-sponsors including Illinois Reps. Bobby Rush and Robin Kelly, Davis’ bill mirrors some of the Illinois Bail Reform Act signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner last summer. It eliminated cash bail for those charged with nonviolent misdemeanors or low-level felonies, requiring bond rehearings after seven days if prisoners haven’t posted bail.
“This is a moral issue for our country, when we can take away people’s freedoms because they are unable to post bail for nonviolent crimes and misdemeanors,” said businessman and former mayoral candidate Willie Wilson, who has been a crusader on the issue, funding mass bailouts of County Jail inmates the past two years.
The jail has seen a 15 percent drop in jail population since bond reform.
Those present Thursday acknowledged Wilson’s advocacy — and relationship with Rauner — made the Illinois reforms possible. Wilson and others plan to work toward grassroots support for the bill, after similar bills introduced by California Congressman Ted Lieu failed in 2016 and 2017.