Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice art exhibit highlights the ongoing fight for pretrial fairness

Years of work to reform Illinois’ cash bail came to pass in September of last year. And now, almost six months later, the artists who helped in the effort’s passing are in the spotlight.

DragonFly Gallery and Creative Spaces is hosting “Art in Action: How Artists Helped Illinois End Money Bond,” an exhibit by the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice, an amalgamation of organizations working to reduce pretrial/mass incarceration and address root causes of inequity in Illinois’ legal system.

The East Garfield Park space will showcase visual media produced by artists documenting the movement to celebrate the three-year anniversary of the Pretrial Fairness Act being signed into law. The Pretrial Fairness Act was part of a broad array of criminal justice reforms passed as part of the SAFE-T Act, signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in 2021. The act abolished cash bail as a potential condition for release and changed the way pretrial hearings are conducted.

Artist and exhibit organizer Cori Nakamura Lin said artists within the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice, the Chicago-based For the People Artists Collective, and Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative created prints, banners, signs, short films and photos about the pretrial campaign. Lin said the show will run into the spring, with different events bringing together the community, legislators and artists so they can share more about the process and engage in the discussion about pretrial fairness.

“Artwork does a great job of telling not just the facts, but also the stories and the emotions that can help bring Chicago and Illinois together,” she said. “We’re excited to celebrate the art that has helped make this work possible. It’s sometimes hard for folks to imagine something different than the structure that currently exists. Artists have a way of taking that idea and showing it to us — that can help build the imagination we need to build a new system.”

Matt McLoughlin, co-founder of the Chicago Community Bond Fund and a campaign strategist with the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice, said May marks nine years of organizing around the issue of ending money bail, but the work continues.

“We do need to stay on it,” he said. “We got a long way to go, but I’m excited about this first step that we’ve taken here in Illinois.”

As far as next steps, McLoughlin said the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice is focused on having community members watch court proceedings to make sure the Pretrial Fairness Act is being properly implemented through the first year. Community education is ongoing about the new law, with guides set to be distributed at the gallery.

Artist Cori Lin organizes prints and posters for the “Art in Action: How Artists Helped Illinois End Money Bond” exhibit. This specific selection of square images features people that passed away at Cook County Jail during the early days of the COVID pandemic. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)
Artist Cori Lin and Christina Snee hang prints and posters at Dragonfly Gallery & Creative Spaces for the upcoming exibit “Art in Action: How Artists Helped Illinois End Money Bond.” (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

“We’ve been thrilled to hear reports throughout the state that the law is having its intended impact,” McLoughlin said. “Previously under the money bond system, people had their freedom decided in less than three minutes. It was just a matter of how large their bank account was whether or not they got to go home to their families. Those hearings are now taking dramatically longer. There’s much more intentionality going into every decision that’s being made, and it’s prioritizing people’s rights.”

New legislation called the Pretrial Success Act was filed this month. A follow-up to the Pretrial Fairness Act, the new act is meant to minimize the number of people detained pretrial by ensuring access to community-based pretrial supports and services. The act hopes to ensure people returning to the community are getting the resources they need be successful while awaiting trial and make it back to court, including mental health assistance, substance use treatment, transportation and child care.

“Illinois right now is setting the example for the rest of the country about what is possible,” McLoughlin said. “I know there are a number of states right now that are considering making similar changes. It’s really important to us that we get this right, not just for our community, but for the entire country where there are countless people suffering under the money bond system. Illinois has the opportunity to show that there’s another way that we can protect people’s rights and prioritize community safety in a way that hasn’t happened historically.”

“Art in Action: How Artists Helped Illinois End Money Bond” runs through March 24 at DragonFly Gallery and Creative Spaces, 2436 W. Madison St. Admission is free, register for tickets at

This post was originally published on this site