PEORIA -- A coalition of Peoria social justice groups are proposing the end of cash bonds for people awaiting trial in Illinois.
The advocates said more than 250,000 people are held in prison before trial every year in Illinois because they cannot afford to pay a cash bond.
The groups starting the discussion include the Peoria NAACP, Change Peoria, Black Justice Project and ACLU of Peoria.
Chama St. Louis is an organizer with the Black Justice Project. She said cash bonds disproportionately affect black and brown people and the poor.
“It causes a harsher effect. So, it causes them to lose their jobs, potentially get evicted from their homes. It starts this downward spiral of deepening the poverty," she said.
St. Louis said money bond isn’t serving as an incentive for people to appear for court dates because much of the money posted is ultimately eaten up in court costs and attorney fees. She argues providing services like transportation and childcare for people who need to appear in court would be more effective solutions.
Peoria County Sheriff Brian Asbell said he would want to "pump the brakes" and hear more details before new legislation is introduced.
The sheriff said he would never want the Peoria County Jail to be seen as a “debtor’s prison,” and he’s supported reforms to the cash bond system.
This includes a 2017 bill signed into law by former Gov. Bruce Rauner. It allows a re-hearing if a low-level offender cannot afford to post bond at the originally-set amount. However, Asbell said there are sometimes good reasons for people to remain in custody.
“You look at our opioid epidemic or the mental illness that’s in our community, and we have a lot of these people that are incarcerated. I will say some are better off in jail where we can work with them," he said.
Asbell said the jail can provide mental health and substance abuse treatments that can ultimately help people better re-integrate into society.
State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria) is an advocate of further reforming the cash bond system in Illinois. She said the 2017 law was a good start, but there is more work to be done.
She said her colleague, Rep. Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago), introduced House Bill 3347 to abolish cash bond in the state in most cases.
Gordon-Booth is backing House Bill 2689, the Pre-Trial Data Act.
"What my bill does, is it requires counties in Illinois to collect and make public information - basic information about how each county administers criminal justice, including what kind of bonds judges are setting in each jurisdiction, and how many people in jail are actually awaiting trial because they can't afford bond," she said.
Gordon-Booth said the two bills mark the next steps for reforming the Illinois bond system.
If you would like to learn more, the Black Justice Project and other groups are hosting the "Ending Money Bond" event at the Peoria Public Library Lincoln Branch from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Thursday. The event includes speakers from the Chicago Community Bond Fund and a short film.