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Truth Test: Will ending cash bail in Illinois cause a rise in crime?

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Governor JB Pritzker signed the SAFE-T Act into law in 2021. On January 1, 2023, the Act will end cash bail in Illinois.

In a cash bail system, the ability to pay bail determines if a person is released or remains in jail after an arrest.

Illinois Republicans are warning that New York’s bail reform, which was passed in 2020, “has led to an unprecedented massive rise in crime, violent reoffenders, and accused criminals skipping trial.”

Insha Rahman, Vice President of Advocacy and Partnerships at the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonpartisan, pro-bail reform group in New York City, agrees that certain crime has increased in NY as well as in other areas of the country since the pandemic. But she said the uptick has nothing to do with bail reform.

Rahman cited a study from Third Way, a center-left think tank, which found that “8 of the 10 states with the highest murder rates in 2020 voted for the Republican presidential nominee in every election this century.”

“There is no correlation, let alone causation between bail reform being implemented and the rise in crime and violence (in New York),” Rahman, a former public defender at The Bronx Defenders, went on to say. “And, you know, in my view, the biggest concern about blaming bail reform for the very real increase in violence is that if you blame the wrong causes, you miss the right solutions.”

The Illinois GOP added that in New York “as a direct result of the new bail law, 20.1% of ‘felony arraignments’ were rearrested in 2021, with 16.1% failing to appear at arraignment.”’

However, Rahman said the Illinois GOP statement is “inaccurate” and lacks context. She sees it as an attempt to score “cheap points” by “fear-mongering.”

“They (the Illinois GOP) didn’t actually name what the appearance rates and rearrest rates were before bail reform, and they didn’t name from what period or how they are picking that data,” Rahman said. “Failing to appear at arraignments is not a measure anyone tracks in NYS (New York state) courts. Arraignment is the first court appearance following an arrest.”

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, “pretrial rearrest rates remained nearly identical pre- and post-bail reform — even after reform, more than 97 percent of people released pretrial were not rearrested for any violent felony offense.”

Harrison Malkin is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow him @HarrisonMalkin 

Editor’s Note: Every Thursday until the November general election, Illinois Newsroom’s Harrison Malkin conducts a Truth Test, parsing fact vs. fiction in claims made by political campaigns.

Picture of Harrison Malkin

Harrison Malkin

Harrison Malkin is a politics reporter at Illinois Public Media. He's focusing on elections across the state, particularly the 13th and 15th congressional districts and the gubernatorial race. Malkin studied Politics and Communications at Ithaca College, where he was a nightly newscaster and reporter for WICB. From 2020 to 2021, he was a reporting fellow at the Center on Media, Crime, and Justice at John Jay College. You can send a tip, recommendation, or note to hmalkin@illinois.edu.

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