ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — An Illinois criminal justice reform law will do away with the cash bail system on January 1st, 2023, which means suspects charged with certain felonies — including second-degree murder, aggravated battery, and arson — will be released without bail.
“Approximately 400 criminal defendants will be released back into your community,” warned Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley.
“Anyone sitting in jail right now with all these pending charges, they’re going to be let out,” Johnson County Sheriff Peter Sopczak said. “The gates are open and they’re going to be let out onto the streets.”
One part of the 611-page amendment to House Bill 163, a massive police reform initiative introduced by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, is the Pretrial Fairness Act, which would abolish cash bail.
The aim of the legislation would set free certain criminal offenders without having to wait in jail for their court date, because they can’t afford bond.
Gov. JB Pritzker (D) signed the law in February, saying “Transforming the pretrial detention system so low-income people aren’t thrown behind bars while only the wealthy walk free, diverting low-level drug crimes into substance-treatment programs and reducing excessive stays in prison.”
Advocates for the abolishment of cash bail view it as a pillar of institutional racism within the criminal justice system.
“That’s just inequitable that some people get to be free because they have money and other people have to remain incarcerated, which has all kinds of terrible consequences for people’s ability to work, for their housing, their whole families suffer,” said Ben Ruddell, ACLU of Illinois, according to WLS.
Instead, a judge would issue pre-trial release conditions for offenders, something local pastors have been pushing for, saying the change is necessary to improve the criminal justice system.
However, Hanley says the law prohibits judges from “considering each case on its own merits and applying the law accordingly.”
The Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act (SAFE-T Act) would restrict which crimes a person can be arrested for, and would free those in custody for 12 offenses, including second-degree murder, aggravated battery, and arson without bail, as well as drug-induced homicide, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, intimidation, aggravated DUI, aggravated fleeing and eluding, drug offenses and threatening a public official.
“Even though aggravated battery is a violent offense that is a forcible felony, a person can get probation for it,” Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Reitz said to WICS. “It’s not a detainable offense under the new statue.”
Felony murder would still require suspects to remain incarcerated until their court hearing, and those charged with domestic violence would be held in custody for 24-48 hours.
But, only if the prosecution proves that the suspect is a danger to the safety of a specific, identifiable person or persons, Hanley pointed out.
“Imagine the defendant who murdered his wife, to whom he no longer poses a threat, being released because of this ridiculously limited legal standard,” Hanley said.
Grundy County Sheriff Ken Briley told WLS that police would not be able to arrest people for certain misdemeanors, such as trespassing.
“Today, I can arrest him if you sign a complaint for trespassing,” Briley said. “January 1st, I’m not going to be able to do that. The law says I have to write him a ticket and leave.”
“Judges may no longer issue a warrant when a defendant fails to come to court,” Hanley added. “Instead, an absent defendant must next be served with a court order asking them to appear and then fail to appear a second time before a warrant may be issued.”
One part of the law would create co-responder programs in cities across Illinois, which would be made up of law enforcement, mental health professionals, and social workers.
It also includes more investment in mental health services and trauma centers.
Republicans have called for stricter sentencing for violent offenders and the repeal of certain parts of the SAFE-T Act.
Law enforcement agencies across the state opposed the bill’s passage.
Gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey (R) met with Illinois Sheriffs last week and promised to repeal the law if he is elected.
Illinois is the first state in the country to completely abolish cash bail.