CHICAGO, Ill. (WTVO) — Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker on Tuesday defended the elimination of cash bail as part of the SAFE-T Act, saying the law would address “the problem of a single mother who shoplifted diapers for her baby” and is held in jail until her trial because she cannot afford bail.
Illinois will become the first state in the nation to abolish the cash bail system on January 1st, 2023.
SAFE-T is an acronym for “Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity Today,” a police reform law. Part of the amendment to House Bill 163 is the Pretrial Fairness Act, introduced by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, which would set free certain criminal offenders without having to wait in jail for their court date, because they can’t afford bond.
Advocates for the abolishment of cash bail view it as a pillar of institutional racism within the criminal justice system.
“Pretrial fairness, that’s what we’re trying to accomplish as a legislative Black caucus,” said 67th District State Representative Maurice West (D), who co-sponsored the law.
“There’s (sic) people in jail right now who have lost their homes, lost their relationships, lost their jobs because they were too broke to pay for their cash bail. That’s what we’re trying to tackle,” West said. “Ending of cash bail does not mean that these individuals are now released from jail on their own accord, it means that the power is back where it’s supposed to be, in the judge’s hands.”
The Center for American Progress has said that the cash bail system “criminalizes poverty” mostly in communities of color, saying “studies show that pretrial detention can actually increase a person’s likelihood of rearrest upon release, perpetuating an endless cycle of arrest and incarceration.”
“[The law is to make] sure that we’re also addressing the problem of a single mother who shoplifted diapers for her baby, who is put in jail and kept there for six months because she doesn’t have a couple of hundred dollars to pay for bail,” Pritzker said. “So that’s what the Safe-T Act is about. Are there changes, adjustments that need to be [made]? Of course, and there have been adjustments made and there will continue to be. Laws are not immutable.”
West has said the language of the law may be amended when the House goes back into session this Fall.
McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally (R) responded to Pritzker, saying it is impossible for a single mother who steals diapers to be held pretrial for six months under current laws.
Kenneally said the law, passed through the Illinois state legislature during a lame duck session, is “dedicated to the well-being of one constituency – criminal defendants.”
State’s Attorneys in McHenry, Will, Kankakee, and Grundy counties have filed lawsuits against Pritzker and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, claiming that the SAFE-T Act violates the Illinois Constitution.
Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe (D) argued that the law amends the constitution in a way that would only be legal through a ballot measure.
“The Safe-T Act has effectively violated this section of the Illinois Constitution without a referendum vote of the people,” Rowe said. “The legislature does not have that power.”
The SAFE-T Act would restrict which crimes a person can be arrested for, and would potentially free those in custody and awaiting trial 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.
Judges will have the authority to determine who should be held in jail until their court date, but only if the person is a clear and present danger to another, or poses a flight risk.
“Judges may no longer issue a warrant when a defendant fails to come to court,” Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley (R) said. “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.”
Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana released a YouTube video last week outlining how the law will impact local policing.
Raoul acknowledged Tuesday that “a number of issues” with the SAFE-T Act “deserve discussion” before the law goes into effect.
An online petition, launched by State Senator Donald DeWitte (R-St. Charles), to repeal the act has garnered more than 10,000 signatures as of Wednesday, Sept. 21.
Users on social media, particularly TikTok, have begun nicknaming the law “The Purge Law,” in reference to a series of horror movies that depict a dystopian future in which murder is legal on one night each year.
Legal experts have dismissed the comparison.
“The Purge is a time where they say this is a free-for-all. All crime is legal for the next 24 hours. That’s the concept of The Purge, right?” New York public defender Olayemi Olurin told NBC Chicago. “That is not the case here in any way, shape, or form what this law actually does. This is just redressing bail. That’s all this is, addressing bail. You can’t… you are not being given and invited for any free-for-all for crime.”
The city of Orland Park announced a new policing initiative on Monday designed to bypass the SAFE-T Act, by entering into an agreement with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that would make two officers part-time agents, allowing officers to take certain cases directly to the Assistant U.S. Attorney.