Lawmakers address concern, division with elimination of cash bail in SAFE-T Act

Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 6:57 PM CDT
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PEORIA (25 News Now) - In any major reform there are bumps, especially for a significant change like eliminating bail from the justice system. Whether that bump is a massive spike in crime or wrinkles in ironing a new system depends on what side of the aisle we ask.

Illinois Republicans have been strongly against the legislation since it was passed in January 2021. In the most recent legislative session, there were multiple attempts to repeal or change the SAFE-T act as it stands now, including an attempt from Peoria-area Representative Ryan Spain. All repeal proposals ultimately failed.

In a statement released during his repeal attempt in January, Spain called the legislation “despicable,” believing the changes will lead to more crime in the state.

“The priorities of the criminal class were placed ahead of the working class and ahead of our law enforcement by Illinois Democrat lawmakers,” Spain said in a statement.

“Carjackings, shootings, and other senseless acts of violence have Illinois residents living in constant fear of criminals,” he continued.

Those sentiments combined with rising concern and rumors circulating on social media express the same fear that criminals will be let loose after committing offenses. Generally, that’s false.

A graphic circulating on social media alleging some charged with these crimes would be released...
A graphic circulating on social media alleging some charged with these crimes would be released from jail before their trial date.(WEEK)

Democrats state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth and state Sen. Dave Koehler say most of the information on social media is false, created to incite people into believing crime will spike dramatically following the elimination of cash bail.

It’s not the creation of a catch-and-release system. A 2020 bipartisan report from the Illinois Supreme Court was the foundation for changes in pre-trial procedures. The act specifies a person can be held in jail before their trial if they are a flight risk, or pose a risk of committing a new criminal or violent offense.

A passage from the April 2020 Supreme Court report laying out guidelines for detaining someone...
A passage from the April 2020 Supreme Court report laying out guidelines for detaining someone until their trial.(WEEK)

The report also suggests an overhaul of the pre-trial system that requires courts to assess defendants of the above risks, but the decision of whether or not to let someone out before their trial falls to a judge.

The suggested screening procedures for detainees to see if they're eligible for release before...
The suggested screening procedures for detainees to see if they're eligible for release before their trial.(WEEK)

“That is where we want the discretion to be,” State Rep. Jehan Gordon Booth said. “For decades we’ve talked about a justice system where judges have more discretion. with this policy, we’re giving judges that discretion to work with our law enforcement agencies, to work with state’s attorneys to help keep the community safer.”

If someone is released before their trial, they are under an agreement they must follow before that date. It’s not quite like probation, but similar. The 2020 Supreme Court guidelines suggest courts implement a system to notify the court when a defendant is violating their pre-trial agreement. Violation may change whether or not they’re out of jail before their trial.

In our previous coverage, Sheriffs expressed concern about re-offenders, even for nonviolent offenses. If someone is returned to the judge after re-offending, they will be detained until their trial. However, if someone is committing a crime for the first time, then released before their trial, how can courts ensure they won’t re-offend?

Gordon-Booth said there’s not a surefire way to make sure someone won’t commit a crime a second time, noting that convicted criminals who complete a prison sentence might re-offend after getting out of jail. Even in the current system, someone could post bail and re-offend. She’s hoping the judge can properly assess who is at risk of committing a crime again.

“If you’re not a threat if you’re not a risk, then why do we clog up our jail system with people who aren’t able to afford it,” State Sen. Dave Koehler said. “That’s the impetus of this.”

Spain was not available for comment with 25News Tuesday.

The Illinois Supreme Court will continue to hold town halls providing more information on the upcoming changes to the justice system. The next session is set for September 16, regarding “evidence-based pre-trial assessments.” Their next town hall is Sept. 29, the whole schedule can be found on their website.