Cash Bail Debate Picks Up After Illinois Abolishes the Practice

Earlier this year Illinois became the first state to abolish cash bail, igniting even more debate that has some states clarifying guidelines, while others are adding more restrictions.

A recent Stateline article featured a myriad of debates happening around the country as state and local governments are trying to address historic challenges around cash bail policies. Originally devised as a process for ensuring an individual would appear for trial, research has shown the practice has a disproportionate effect on underserved communities and communities of color. As some states, including Maryland, debate how to reconcile the inequities and effectiveness, others like Illinois are abolishing the process all together.

In Maryland the cash bail system underwent an overhaul in 2017 following a vote by the Supreme Court of Maryland to adopt a landmark rule aimed at ending the practice of holding criminal defendants in jail before trial when they cannot afford bail. The judges unanimously agreed on a compromise that did not abolish money bail but instructed judges and court commissioners to look first to other ways to ensure a defendant appears for trial. The ruling came after then Attorney General, Brian E. Frosh, issued an opinion questioning the constitutionality of existing practices in Maryland.

The Office of the Attorney General has since published an instructive bail reform guide on their website. Both Montgomery and St. Mary’s County are featured as an example in the guide and commended for their efforts. The cash bail discussion has come up again amongst Maryland lawmakers. During the 2023 legislative session, legislators debated a bill that would have blocked violent offenders from receiving bail. While leadership from both parties could agree that repeat offenders are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime, they could not agree on the pre-trial process. With crime as a major concern generally, the debate is likely to pick up again during the 2024 legislative session.