Should McDonough county offer I-bonds?

Juan Casas, Courier Staff

Currently, it’s county policy to not offer I-bonds for low-income individuals who have been charged with a crime, misdemeanor or felony in McDonough County.

An I-bond is a type of bail that allows individuals charged with certain crimes, typically non-violent crimes, the right to their freedom without requiring them to post a cash bail. This has nothing to do with sentencing or whether or not a person is innocent or guilty, this is prior to trial and at this stage in the process, all are considered innocent until proven guilty. This is done predominantly in urban cities, for example in Illinois, it’s often widely used in Cook County. This helps reduce the population of the jails and helps free up space for more hardened, serious offenders. This also helps low-income offenders, for example, from rural and urban backgrounds where there aren’t many opportunities for economic advancement, retain their livelihoods and helps them not fall into a cycle of crime and violence.

The reason for why the county of McDonough does not offer I-bonds most likely has to do with money. The minimum bail amount for non-violent offenses is $150 but can be much higher per person. So during a typical weekend, the McDonough County jail receives about a dozen to two dozen (during homecoming/Halloween it can be much higher) people who would need to pay the $150 plus any other court fees, not to mention the cost of any tickets or citations issued. Overall, cash bail is a lucrative for-profit business. Now, the problem with this system is that a large portion of those who are charged are typically Western Illinois University students who, due to their enrollment, are usually unemployed or underemployed and simply lack the resources to pay for their immediate release. Another problem with university students being put in jail is the fact that the overwhelming number of students recruited by Western are from the Chicago and the St. Louis areas and are predominantly people of color, so not only are university students being imprisoned, but most of them are minority students from low-income backgrounds who are being imprisoned.

If an individual can’t cover the bail amount, then they must stay in county jail until they can cover it. Every night spent in jail is worth $30 dollars, so a person who has not yet been found guilty of a crime would have to spend seven nights in the county jail to cover the $150 or as many nights required until their bail is paid off. That is time that they will miss from school and work (if employed), of their life that they will never get back, along with the trauma imposed upon the human psyche from experiencing the loss of their individual freedom. Now, I’m not suggesting that all offenders be offered I-bonds, that would be radical and dangerous, but I am suggesting that non-violent offenders from low-income backgrounds should be offered I-bonds when they lack the financial resources to post their own cash bail and thus, they can then return to their lives with minimal intervention from law enforcement. This will help the county in the long run, because students who experience being imprisoned for a non-violent offense will be much more likely to drop out of the university. This then leads to a reduction in enrollment (my theory as to why it’s already at a historic low) and then translates to loss of state and federal grants that the University receives per student enrolled not to mention the tens of thousands of dollars they receive directly from the student enrolled at the institution. This then further exacerbates the financial woes of the county; which is ironic because it’s why they don’t have I-bonds to begin with because of the supposed revenue it adds to the county. Overall, it’s a vicious cycle that must be reduced if not out-right eliminated. Until this happens, students will continue to drop out of Western and the economic woes of the entire region will continue.