Chicago Mayoral Election 2023

Here's What Chicago Mayoral Candidates Have to Say About Ending Cash Bail

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All nine candidates running for mayor of Chicago were asked about a bill passed by the Illinois General Assembly that would eliminate cash bail, a piece of legislation that is currently on hold as court challenges to the bill move their way through the court system.

The SAFE-T Act was passed last year by Illinois lawmakers, but a suit filed by a group of States Attorneys led to a temporary restraining order being put in place, which prevented the bill from going into effect on Jan. 1.

As that process continues to play out, the candidates were asked what they thought about the elimination, and while all nine expressed at least some support, there were also some that offered qualifications to that support.

Here are their answers, given during a forum cohosted by NBC 5, the Business Leadership Council, WVON, the Chicago Urban League and NABJ Chicago.

Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García

Cash bail is a practice that says people who are arrested for violent crimes should be able to get out simply because they can come up with money, while if they don’t have access to money they languish in jail. It’s been in place in Washington, D.C. for I believe 15 years, and I don’t read about it in the Washington Post. You don’t hear about people getting out and committing all kinds of crimes. It is about equity, and it is about ending the school-to-prison pipeline.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer

I do also support the elimination of cash bail. The bail is supposed to be used to compel appearances in court. You should not be subjected to that just because you don’t have money.

I support that initiative, I support the state in this regard.

Judges do have the authority to keep someone in jail if they feel they are a threat to others, or a threat to society in general. That portion still stands, and I still support that as well.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot

I support no-cash bail. Cook County Jail should not be a debtor’s prison, but I think the concern is of who is getting out on bail, and the concern is specifically around community safety.

Right now there are about 1,900 people charged with things like murder, attempted murder, using a gun in the commission of a violent felony, who are walking the streets on electronic monitors where  nobody’s monitoring, and that’s just under the sheriff’s program.

So while we should get rid of cash bail, we should be hold all violent, dangerous and habitual offenders accountable and hold them pretrial. It’s not just about their constitutional rights, it’s not about their day in court. All of those things are sacrosanct, but so is the right of people to be able to feel safe in their community.

Paul Vallas

I support no-cash bail, but with the following distinctions: you have to distinguish between violent offenders and non-violent offenders. Number two, you have to distinguish between habitual offenders. CWBD follows habitual offenders who have committed violent crimes who have been granted pretrial release, and guess what: 15% of the murders and shootings were caused by people out on pretrial release.

When you look at those people who have been released, a lot of the times they may have been arrested for six or seven felonies, and yet they’re still being released.  

The question here is how do we distinguish between violent and nonviolent offenders, and not just leave it up to the discretion of the judges? And how do we deal with the issue of habitual offenders who have been arrested?

*Vallas was here asked a follow-up on why judges wouldn’t be qualified to make the determination on pretrial detention

The problem is that they’re not making that determination all the time, or they’re at least not making the right determination. I mean, 15% of these individuals who have committed murder, or who have shot somebody, have been out on pretrial release programs. There’s a real problem with this.

What I’m saying is if you’re going to have bail reform, you need to distinguish between violent offenders, nonviolent offenders and habitual offenders.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson

It was the right thing to do and judges are in the best position. They are elected to be able to make that distinction and particularly for Black folks, where we fought hard to get more Black judges elected.

I will trust the discretion of judges in this particular dynamic to determine what is a violent offense and what isn’t. It’s a serious problem, public safety for all of us. My wife and I are raising our children in Austin. We love the West Side of Chicago, but it is one of the more violent communities in this entire city.

That’s why we have to take it seriously and be smart about it. It really requires us to invest, promoting 200 or more detectives, making sure that we’ve doubled the amount of young people that are hired. That’s in my plan.

Make sure that we execute the consent decree with all expediency. Public safety is really about investing in the people of Chicago, and my plan does that.

Willie Wilson

We’ve helped hundreds or thousands of people get out of jail, for misdemeanors and non-violent crimes. So many people in jail don’t even know why they were in jail. When you have a Latin American, a white American, a Black American, or any American, fair is fair. We have to get together and talk about it and work it out. If 50% of the people are one way and 50% of the people are another way, it doesn’t go away. We have to get together and work it out.

State Rep. Kam Buckner

 Not only do I support the ending of cash bail in Illinois, but I helped to write a good amount of the law, and I’m extremely proud of that. Listen, we’ve got to be very honest about how we got here and the roots of cash bail in this country. It has its roots in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, has its roots in the 1830s with slave bounties for people who look like me.

We cannot continue a system like that, and I will never apologize for aggressively attacking a system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.

We’ve got work to do in this space to make sure that we are doing things to keep all of us safe, but we can’t keep spewing numbers that aren’t true. We know at least 50 people are walking in Cook County free on murder charges because they have the money to bail out. This is not a system that keeps us safe.

Ald. Sophia King

I believe no cash bail is more equitable. There are a lot of violent rich criminals who are able to bond themselves, so we’ll be safer for that. We need a comprehensive plan that makes our city safe. We have that. We have a plan that puts hundreds of millions of dollars into violence intervention.

We also have a plan to put more police in all our communities to know that they are inequitably distributed, and that when most people call 911 that there is a presence there.

Ja’Mal Green

Yes, I definitely agree with no cash bail, and the real problem is the fact that police aren’t doing their jobs when it comes to actually bringing forth evidence to judges so that they can make the right decisions, which is why we must increase the amount of detectives.

We must address the root causes, because it’s not just cash bail. It’s investing in neighborhoods, making sure they have the resources they deserve.

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