Local state’s attorneys say they’re ready for end of cash bail starting Monday

Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 8:52 PM CDT
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PEORIA (25News Now) - After over a year of criticism, trailer bills, and legal battles, cash bail will be eliminated starting Monday, Sept. 18.

The legislation was passed in 2021 but faced several legal challenges. Eventually, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled the law constitutional.

The law sparked concern for public safety, under the misconception that anyone charged with any crime would be released before their trial. Illinois is the only state to fully eliminate cash bail so far.

Peoria County State’s Attorney Jodi Hoos said her office is ready. Sheriff Chris Watkins said his office is prepared, though they will have to wait and see the effects.

“They’re not smiling about it,” Watkins said of his deputies. “I think even the general public it’s like, is this going to make our community safer?”

There are around 370 inmates in the Peoria County Jail right now, most of them on violent charges according to Watkins and Hoos. Those who are currently in jail for lower-level offenses and nonviolent crimes will have to file a motion for their pre-trial release.

“We do anticipate a number of motions for release will be filed,” Hoos said. “But we have a timeline that’s in place.”

Low-level offenders are often used across Peoria County for maintenance labor. A recently escaped inmate was taking out the trash when he ran off. Without those nonviolent offenders, there won’t be anyone to do that work, Watkins said. The county will have to contract those services out.

Judges will determine who is released based on their charges and criminal history. Violent offenders will still be detained before their trial.

“We will still be able to detain all those violent offenders that we detain today,” Hoos said. “Shootings, murderers, home invasions, assaults, all those cases.”

The law also moves up the timeline for a defendant to face trial. Courts must try someone within a 90-day window as opposed to a 120-day window from when they were charged.

In Knox County, State’s Attorney Jeremy Karlin said that a tighter timeline could cause extra stress while building a case, as they wait for forensic evidence to get back to them.

Karlin was one of the attorneys who initially sued the state over the elimination of cash bail. He said while he agrees with not keeping someone in jail because of their economic status, he had issues with the law as written. The trailer bill cleared up a lot of those problems, he said.

“I think the concern is from a small misconception about what the statute does, as well as we are all fearful of change in one way or another,” Karlin said.

There have been numerous training sessions for law enforcement in Knox County. They expanded the training to the general public so people could learn how the new system works. Karlin finds the critiques of the elimination of cash bail aren’t solved by keeping it around.

“People get released and then they commit new crimes,” Karlin said of the current system. “The SAFE-T Act isn’t really going to change that.”

Karlin said his office has also purposefully asked for a high bond to keep someone detained, and then were surprised when they raised the funds to pay. In their small community, they know defendants and their histories well.

Watkins, Hoos, and Karlin agree some wrinkles will need to be ironed out. The next three months will provide a clearer picture of how the elimination of cash bail will impact public safety.