Student Newsroom

Community members protest high bail, jail conditions


Hrant Kebantsi leads protestors in chants outside the Champaign County satellite jail on March 6. The demonstrators gathered to support inmates on a hunger strike until conditions within the jail improve and bail costs are reduced. Owen Henderson

Demonstrators gathered outside the Champaign County satellite jail in Urbana on March 6 to protest for lower bail costs and improved conditions inside the jail. 

The rally was prompted by a group of inmates declaring a hunger strike over the same demands late February. 

The inmates said the conditions within the jail and the high cost of bail are violations of their Eighth Amendment rights, which guarantee protection against “excessive bail” and “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Illinois’ Pretrial Fairness Act abolished cash bail payments, allowing suspects to be released from jail before their trial, but legal challenges have prevented that law from going into effect

George Basilatos and other protestors outside the jail said the situation called for more urgent action.

“We can’t wait on the courts to make change; we need to take action here and now in our communities in an organized way,” Basilatos said. “And so we’re going to be trying to escalate this campaign, put more pressure on the sheriff, put more pressure, especially on Julia Rietz, the state’s attorney.” 

Those who were detained before the Pretrial Fairness Act’s passage are still stuck with high bail penalties and little hope of getting out before their trials, Julie Campbell, the mother of one of the striking inmates, said.

“These inmates are someone’s family. Someone’s dad, someone’s son, someone’s grandson, someone’s brother,” Campbell said. “And last time I visited with my son, he said ‘Mom, we all just feel like we’re just existing, that we mean nothing to no one, like we’re in a vortex and we’re never going to get out of here.’

“They just forget about them. Once they’re accused, they’re losers, they’re garbage, and they’re no good. Let’s just throw them away. And that’s just not true. These gentlemen are worth saving.”

The inmates said in a statement that the high bail prices violate their constitutional rights and vowed to strike until their conditions improve.

The Champaign County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment for this story.