Misinformation Spreads about Illinois Law Ending Cash Bail

by John Castle ‘25

A new law enacted in Illinois, titled the SAFE-T act, that takes effect on January 1 is resulting in misleading information and controversy to spread across social media with people naming the new policy “The Purge Law.” Under the new law, Illinois citizens who are charged with a crime will not have to pay bail in order to be free until their trial. The law was implemented to ensure people will not be detained simply because they financially are unable to pay bond.

Bail in the United States refers to when a person in custody pays the court in order to be released from jail until the next court hearing. If they do return, they are given a refund of their money. If they are not able to pay the bail, the person is kept in custody. However at this stage of the judicial process, the accused culprit has only been arrested and charged, and has not been officially convicted of a crime. The SAFE-T act in Illinois is intended to make people of all socio-economic classes equal within the state’s justice system. It is rooted in the idea that cash bail was criminalizing poverty and thousands of people were detained before being officially convicted.

The Illinois law also is intended to address racial disparities. Cook County Jail in Chicago is one of the largest pretrial detention centers in the country, with a population of more than 5,600 people, 74-percent of whom are Black. Additionally, the jail is situated in a county where 24 percent of Black residents live below the poverty line, the highest of any racial group.

Although it was originally given the name The Pretrial Fairness law, it now is titled The SAFE-T Act (Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity-Today) and was signed into law by Governor J.B. Pritzker in 2021. However the elimination of cash bail is only one piece of the SAFE-T Act. Other measures the bill takes to change criminal justice in Illinois is expanding financial support and other services for victims of crime, increasing police oversight and accountability, and narrowing the felony murder law.

Once this policy was officially put on the schedule to be implemented in 2023, social media platforms such as TikTok blew up with conservative social activism pages spreading rumors and blowing the new law out of proportion. Frightened people saw the law as a loophole for convicted criminals to commit crimes without consequences until their next court date, hence the name “The Purge Law” in reference to the movie franchise which entails all laws being abolished for 12 hours in the United States. Misinformation spread on social media that people convicted of a crime will not have to pay bail and that these “criminals’’ will be allowed back into the public even if they are dangerous.

However, the ‘SAFE-T Act’ law only applies to those who are convicted of minor crimes or misdemeanors. What social media got wrong is that people who have committed violent or serious crimes won’t get an option for bail at all. These dangerous criminals will be detained in custody until the next hearing, regardless of whether or not they could pay a bail. As an editorial in the Chicago Tribune explains,“Justice if you can afford it? That’s not how our system is supposed to work, even though in many cases that tends to be the grim reality.”