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Freedom Isn’t Free For Many: Peoria Coalition Working To End Money Bond In Illinois

More than 250,000 people in Illinois are held in jails each year before a judge decides innocence or guilt. Some are kept in jail because they are a danger to society, but the majority are held simply because they can’t afford to pay a “money bond.”

Money bonds are used to make sure someone charged with a crime shows up for their court date. First, a judge sets a bond amount, and then the defendant deposits the amount of money with the court. When the defendant appears for their court hearing, they are returned their bond amount (minus administrative fees). However, in Peoria and across Illinois, money bonds are being set at amounts far higher than defendants can reasonably afford. This means that someone who has not been proven guilty ends up sitting in jail for days, weeks, and even months simply because they don’t have the financial means to pay their bail. Our criminal justice system is built on the foundation of “innocent until proven guilty” and decides punishments based on the severity of the crime. Yet, many Illinoisans are treated as guilty before their court hearing, extending their punishments whether they are innocent or not – just because they don’t have the financial means to leave the jail.

A group of local Peorians is looking to change that. On June 13, from 5:30 PM – 7:00 PM at the Lincoln Branch Peoria Public Library, the Peoria Coalition to End Money Bond will discuss statewide reform efforts that could change the way money bonds are set in the State of Illinois. Black Justice Project Founder Chama St. Louis says the impact of reform could be significant for many Peorians, “because of the inability to pay money bonds, Peorians are losing their jobs, losing custody of their kids, and pleading guilty, all because they are being forced to sit in jail from an inability to pay bond.”

Black Justice Project and Change Peoria bailed two mothers out of jail for Mother’s Day and are looking to do the same for local fathers on Father’s Day. Only 2,500 dollars was needed to allow two mothers to spend the holiday with their family. The goal is four fathers for Father’s Day. “While we are using the occasion of the holiday to reunite families this is a problem every day,” says Ryan Hidden Executive Director of Change Peoria, “someone’s freedom shouldn’t depend on the size of their bank account.”

At the June 13 event attendees will learn about local efforts in Peoria County to end money bond, as well as have an opportunity to join concerned Peorians in planned trips to testify before a state commission later this summer in Springfield. Representatives from the Chicago Community Bond Fund, which is coordinating conversations across the state on reform, will give a presentation at the meeting.

The Peoria Coalition to End Money Bond includes: Change Peoria, Black Justice Project, Peoria NAACP, Peoria ACLU, and other local leaders including Peter Kobak, Anthony Walraven, Jimena Lopez, and Hannah Ramlo.

Individuals interested in participating in the event should RSVP on Facebook at bit.ly/MoneyBondJune13. The Peoria Coalition to End Money Bond is accepting donations to bail out fathers for Father’s Day. If you’d like to make a donation, you can reach out to Chama St. Louis at chamastlouis@gmail.com.