ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Cash bail, used to hold criminal suspects in jail prior to a court hearing, will end in Illinois on Monday as the Pretrial Fairness Act goes into effect.
Illinois will become the first state in the nation to abolish cash bail, part of the controversial SAFE-T Act.
Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley said Wednesday that current inmates housed in the Winnebago County Jail won’t automatically be released on Monday, but said they will be able to petition the court to be re-evaluated under the new law. That means defense attorneys will meet with them and file motions for release.
“The jail is not going to empty on September 18th,” Hanley said. “The way the amendments [work is to] create a system for defense attorneys to file motions, for those motions to be heard, so within 3-6 months of September 18th there will be some individuals that are currently in custody who will be released from custody. It’s almost impossible to predict how many that will be, but it’s not all going to happen on September 18th.”
Hanley said he has concerns over those who are ordered to be detained. Under the new law, a judge has 48 hours to determine if a suspect poses a “real and present threat to the safety of any person or persons or the community.” If a judge orders them to be held in jail, under the new law, they must go to trial within 90 days or be released.
Hanley said 90 days is a nearly impossible timeline to get someone to trial.
“I have some concerns. If you have someone we’re able to show they’re a danger, a judge believes that person is a danger and ordered them detained but on the 91st day, they’re being released because we weren’t able to try them in that amount of time. Doesn’t make them any less dangerous,” he said.
Currently, Hanley said an average case takes about a year to go to trial, or for a defendant to enter a plea.
He also said the Winnebago County court system is working to hire more prosecutors to handle the workload.
“Some of the other courtrooms are going to suffer because we have to divert resources from the various courtrooms to what will now be preparations for initial appearance court,” he added.
Ultimately, he said it would take about 6 to 9 months of living with the law to determine how it would affect his office and staffing needs, the criminal justice system at large, and the community as a whole, as offenders are sent back onto the street.
According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the cash bail system disproportionately impacts Black and brown communities and other underrepresented or impoverished groups, who can’t afford bond.
The original Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity-Today Act, which was introduced by the Illinois Black Caucus as part of Black legislators’ response to the murder of George Floyd, and was passed by the Illinois Senate and House of Representatives in the early hours of Jan. 13, 2021.
Gov. JB Pritzker signed the bill into law on Feb. 22, 2021, but its implementation was held up after legal challenges were addressed.
The Illinois Supreme Court ultimately upheld the law, which goes into effect on Monday, September 18th.
There will be a Pre-Trial Fairness Act Panel held on Wednesday, September 27, 2023 from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Hall, 211. N. Main Street, which will be open to the public.