The Illinois Bail Reform Act of 2017: Roadmap to Reform, or Reform in Name Only?
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Of the approximately 443,000 individuals currently incarcerated in county jails who have yet to be convicted of any of their charges, seventy percent are indigent and cannot afford the bail amount set by the judge at their initial bond hearing. Of these 443,000 individuals, 303,000 are awaiting trial for traditionally non-violent offenses. The Illinois General Assembly recently addressed this crisis by enacting the Illinois Bail Reform Act of 2017 with the goal of ensuring that pretrial incarceration is reserved not for the poor, but rather, for the minority of pretrial defendants who are a flight risk or a danger to society. The Act's language reveals good intentions, however, it arguably provides more virtue-signaling platitudes than it does cognizable, solid reforms. This article critically examines the Act by weighing it in the context of the history of bail in the United States, the Act's legislative history and substantive provisions, issues of public safety, mental health, the civil liberties of criminal defendants, and lastly, several critical shortcomings of the Act that must be amended as soon as possible to avoid the possibility of the Act failing to achieve its intended reforms.