Some Illinois sheriffs oppose 'cashless bail'

A local sheriff is sounding the alarm on Illinois’ cashless bail program. The idea is part of a broader criminal reform bill that Governor JB Pritzker just signed into law.

A couple of local sheriffs have spent the last few years reforming their jails into rehab centers. They say when people are forced to do time, they get the help they need. Now, these programs and their participants could be gone.

"Sometimes people need to be incarcerated," said former DuPage County Jail inmate Mark Swienton.


Mugshots from different eras tell Swienton's story. Once known as Aurora's serial burglar, Swienton says he lost his dad and then control of his own life.

But when he had the chance to bond out of the DuPage County Jail, he chose not to.

"I made a decision not to. I felt it was more advantageous for me to stay in custody, and take advantage of these programs because I suffered from substance abuse my whole life," he said.

The DuPage County Jail directs inmates to mental health, substance abuse and job training programs while behind bars.

"If they go back on the street they're just going to get more problems, offend again, have more charges, or they're going to stay here and they're going to be fixed," DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick said.

The jail currently uses low-level offenders for cooking, laundry and janitorial services. In many cases, they can obtain work in these fields when they get out.

But Mendrick says these programs, along with the jail's storybook program that we profiled on FOX 32, will be gone due to a lack of funding.

"Truly what they should put in the house bill is you should keep your cash bail only if you provide all these reformative services," Mendrick said.

That's exactly what Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain is lobbying for.

"Correctional institutions are mandated to provide some sort of structure for reform instead of just warehousing people," he said.

It worked for Swienton. He is now clean and sober.

"They're allowing us to rehabilitate and make a change in our life," Swienton said.

State Representative Justin Slaughter, a sponsor of the cashless bail legislation, says he and others are working to provide resources to offenders outside of the jail. They hope to have a plan in place before cashless bail goes into effect in 2023.