ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Police, prosecutors, and jails are still adjusting to changes brought on by the Illinois SAFE-T Act, which abolished cash bail in the state.
On Wednesday, Rockford officials held a public forum, at Veterans Memorial Hall, 211. N. Main Street, to address concerns from the community and explain how the transition to the radically new rules is going.
“One of the advantages having it now after the law’s been in effect for about a week and a half is we can talk about what’s actually happening in court. And you’re hearing from those that are actually implementing the law,” said Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley.
One of the many concerns residents had in the months leading up to the controversial law’s implementation was: will offenders currently in jail be released en masse?
Hanley answered, “I don’t see a significant dip in the jail population. But again, we’ll have to wait three months, six months, a year down the road to really know.”
The Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equality Act (SAFE-T Act) allows anyone currently incarcerated to appeal for a new hearing under the new law, which includes many non-detainable crimes for which an offender is given a summons to appear at a later court date and then set free on their own recognizance.
The Winnebago County Jail population prior to the implementation of the law was 750 inmates; as of September 27th, it stands at 764.
“I think everybody thought that day one, the jail was going from a pop of 770 to 400. That’s not going to happen. That’s not the way the system works. But I think in the long run, I think we will start to see things go down. But you we’re two weeks in and you’ve got to give the system a chance to start rolling,” said Tom Lawson, Chief Deputy Circuit Clerk for the 17th Judicial Circuit Court
Hanley explained that the biggest issue facing the criminal justice system will be the lack of income from cash bond, especially since more prosecutors, public defenders, and legal workers will be needed to adjust to the heavier workload.
The law requires that judges grant a pretrial hearing to defendants within 48 hours of their arrest to determine if they are enough of a public risk to have them detained. If they are held in jail, they must be granted a trial in a previously unheard of timeline of 90 days.
“We need more people. That’s the reality of what this law requires. But there’s another other kind of hidden costs, and that’s just the fatigue on our office. It’s created a tremendous amount of pressure on an already overworked and underpaid office,” Hanley said.
Lawson explained, “From the Clerks Association side, we’ve been working for the last two years on what we anticipate for a reduction in revenues. What do we anticipate for additional expenditures? So we’ve been actually, from a court’s perspective, been working on this for about two years.”
“Those who are detained are awaiting trial. If we don’t take them to trial within 90 days, they’re released. I think that would be one of the first things that I would like to see changed. That’s an unrealistic expectation, and I think that could potentially put dangerous people back on the street,” Hanley said.