Cash Bail Says Goodbye; Illinois’ SAFE-T Act, Pretrial Fairness, And Other Reforms
In Illinois news, Governor J.B. Pritzker has acknowledged that changes to the language of the SAFE-T Act might need to be made following public response across the state. So far, all but 1 of 102 state attorneys oppose the law as it stands. In addition, more than half of those prosecutors have filed lawsuits since Governor Pritzker signed the legislation into law, some calling its constitutionality into question.
The Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act, commonly known as the SAFE-T Act. It is an Illinois statute enacted in 2021 that makes a number of reforms to the criminal justice system. It affects policing, pretrial detention and bail, sentencing, and corrections. The Act's section on pretrial detention, which is set to take effect on January 1, 2023, is also known as the Pretrial Fairness Act and has come under increased scrutiny lately.
Major changes created by this bill are as follows;
The most significant change in this section of the Act is the elimination of a cash bail and its replacement with a new process for pretrial release. In the prior system, judges set an amount of "cash bail" or "money bond" for detained individuals. Detainees could be released prior to a trial if they paid the amount of bail.
In the new system, the role of cash payments will be eliminated and judges will determine whether detained individuals pose a risk if released. Pretrial release can be denied by a judge after a hearing, "when it is determined that the defendant poses a specific, real, and present threat to a person, or has the high likelihood of willful flight."
The SAFE-T Act's passage has made Illinois the first state to abolish cash bail as the standard of pretrial detention (act takes effect January 1, 2023). Governor Pritzker has called the legislation,
"a substantial step toward dismantling the systemic racism that plagues our communities, our state, and our nation, and brings us closer to true safety, true fairness, and true justice."
The Act is largely praised by advocates of criminal justice reform. Republican lawmakers and several law enforcement officials have strongly opposed the legislation.
Ahead of this new election cycle, the Pretrial Fairness Act has been the subject of criticism by opponents, who have said the law would create a “non-detainable offense” and that criminals would be released from prison. Republicans have said the changes will lead to more crime, while Democrats have argued the law will make courts fairer and allow them to focus on the more serious crimes.
Other pretrial reforms in the Act include:
- Establishment of a Pretrial Practices Data Oversight Board
- Establishment of a Domestic Violence Pretrial Practices Working Group
- Notification of pretrial hearing to victims of crimes
- Rules enabling the revocation of pretrial release under certain conditions
- Expansion of police training
- Reforms to “use of force” policies, including; limits on the use of deadly force, ban on chokeholds, requirement to provide aid after use of force, and requirement to intervene if other officers use excessive force
- Prohibition on purchasing specific types of military equipment for police use
- Requirement for all law enforcement agencies to use body cameras by 2025
- Requirements on reporting of deaths in police custody and use of force by police officers
- Reforms to police misconduct policies, including; enhanced whistleblower protections, expansion of misconduct database, rules on the maintenance of police misconduct records, requirement to use of special prosecutors in officer-involved deaths, and removal of police discipline from collective bargaining process
- Establishment of new processes for decertification of law enforcement officers due to misconduct
- Increased funding and support for local law enforcement to adopt "co-responder" models where other first responders or mental health professionals accompany law enforcement, particularly in response to substance abuse or mental health concerns
Prison and sentencing reforms:
- Increased support for pregnant prisoners
- Increased amount of "sentence credits.” Prisoners serving 5 years or more can earn these from participation in programs such as work release or educational programs
- Creation and protection of detainees to make three free phone calls and to retrieve phone numbers from their mobile phones prior to confiscation
- Enabling defendants convicted of certain drug offenses to be treated as misdemeanors for the purpose of qualifying for diversion, deflection, or probation programs
- Allowing those on electronic monitoring and home detention to do certain additional tasks (grocery shopping)
- Reduces the amount of time that individuals must be on mandatory supervised release for certain offenses
- Narrowing the "felony murder" rule. Now "a person cannot be charged with first-degree murder unless they, or one of the other participants in the crime, directly caused a death"; previously, "a person could be charged with first-degree murder even if neither they, nor their co-defendants, pulled the trigger,” so to say.
- Ends prison gerrymandering in Illinois. This will require that people in prison are counted as residents of their last known address for the purpose of creating electoral districts. This provision takes effect in 2025.