Op-Ed: Law enforcement groups need a voice, open mind on bail reform

Efforts to change the cash bail system in Illinois were already underway before Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he would make ending it a top priority this year.

Law enforcement groups came out strongly against the idea of doing away with cash bail, the practice of requiring people accused of crimes to put up money to be released from jail prior to trial.

The Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, Chicago Lodge 7 Fraternal Order of Police, the Illinois Police Benevolent and Protective Association, and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police all were represented at a Monday news conference where they pushed back against plans to eliminate cash bail.

These groups are on the front lines of the issue and deserve to have a voice at the table, but they need to bring more open-mindedness than they’ve shown thus far. Just saying no fails to address the underlying issues.

Multiple studies have shown problems with the cash bail system, which blatantly favors those with money over those without it.

Advocates for ending cash bail say the practice has a disproportionate effect on the poor. Those unable to post money to be released from jail while awaiting trial risk losing employment, childcare and housing. They also face greater pressure to accept unfavorable plea agreements, according to a 2018 study.

Locking people up before trial because they don’t have enough money for bail isn’t fair or cost effective. Housing nonviolent people at a local jail is expensive. But the cost is well worth it for people who pose a danger to others if released prior to trial.

The issues here are complex and will require more nuanced discussion and deliberations. Law enforcement groups bring an important perspective here, but they’re unlikely to be heard if the approach is a blanket refusal to consider the issue.

Certainly, public safety needs to remain at the forefront of these conversations. No one knows that better than the men and women who protect our communities, but there is a lot of room for more productive discussions on the issue of cash bail.

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