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Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs criminal reform bill

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law a major criminal justice and police reform bill Monday.
Published: Feb. 22, 2021 at 7:27 PM CST
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ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (KWQC) - Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law a major criminal justice and police reform bill Monday.

“This legislation marks 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,” Governor J.B. Pritzker said during Monday’s press conference. “Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton and I outlined three criminal justice priorities for administration, transforming the pretrial detention system so that 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. This criminal justice package advances, all of those goals, and more.”

House Bill 3653 is a comprehensive overhaul of the criminal justice system and procedure. Some reforms include ending cash bail by 2023, limiting the use of force, and mandating body cameras by 2025. For the Rock Island County State’s Attorney’s office, there are some concerns.

“While I do think it has very good intentions and it does address a very needed reform that we do need in the criminal justice system, it has not clearly given us guidance,” said Dora Villarreal, the Rock Island County State’s Attorney. “We do have some new provisions that come into effect July of this year, so just a few months away now, that change some of the charges that we are able to bring or are able to be arrestable offenses that we do have some pretty big concerns about as well as some changes to the way law enforcement [is] able to investigate their cases.”

“Having lower-level offenses, Class B and C misdemeanors, being non-arrestable offenses in other words [a] law enforcement officer cannot effectuate an arrest for those,” said Heidi Weller, the Assistants State’s Attorney. “While that might sound good on paper, from a purely protection of the public standpoint, if somebody is committing say a disorderly conduct or trespassing on your property to have law enforcement’s hands tied to not be able to arrest on that offense is somewhat concerning.”

“We don’t have a standard risk assessment tool for every court to use. We don’t have resources. We don’t have more mental health beds. We don’t have more substance abuse inpatient beds or outpatient treatment. We don’t have those things to provide which we are now being told we have to provide...these are things that we want to do, but now we’re being ordered to do them without having those resources, which makes it extremely difficult to comply,” Villarreal said.

As far as the next steps, Villarreal said local groups, including attorneys and law enforcement, are working with legislators to get some amendments put in for more clarification and to change contradictory wording.

“We’ve been working hard to provide real-life examples of why there are certain parts of this bill that could be very detrimental to the public safety to many of our victims,” she said, “We’re hoping that there will be some trailer bills put on there in this next legislative session.”

In a statement, the Illinois Law Enforcement Coalition said:

“In signing this bill into law, Governor Pritzker chose to listen to a few strident political voices rather than the 120,000 petition signing citizens who plainly saw the bill for what it is. This new law is a blatant move to punish an entire, honorable profession that will end up hurting law-abiding citizens the most. Because we are sworn to protect and serve the public, we sincerely hope that we will not be proven right about this new law, that it won’t cause police officers to leave the profession in droves and handcuff those who remain so they can’t stop crimes against people and property. Please don’t let us measure its dismal failure by the shattered lives it produces. We urge all citizens to remember who supported this law, and keep that in mind the next time they look to the police in Illinois for the protection they can no longer provide.”

Governor Pritzker addressed opposition and said,” Opponents of this law, don’t want any change. Don’t believe there is injustice in the system and are preying upon fear of change to lie and fearmonger in defense of the status quo.”

“We absolutely must protect public safety and to be clear, that is the priority of this administration, but we must stop criminalizing being poor,” Lieutenant Governor, Juliana Stratton said.

Governor Pritzker said his administration has expunged half a million low-level cannabis arrest records and brought down the state’s prison population down by 25% since the start of the pandemic.

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