Safer Foundation advocates for bail reform in Illinois

Published: Oct. 26, 2022 at 11:26 PM CDT
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ILLINOIS (KWQC) - Despite several county state’s attorneys in Illinois suing the state over the SAFE-T Act, one non-profit is advocating for pretrial detention reform.

The Pretrial Fairness Act within the SAFE-T Act will end cash bail in the state beginning January 2023. It essentially gives judges the power to decide whether or not to keep a person detained before their trial, without financial bond as a stipulation of their release.

State’s attorneys in Mercer, Knox and Jo Daviess Counties have all filed lawsuits opposing the measure. Many state’s attorneys argue the law is too vague and could pose a threat to the public.

However, according to officials at Safer Foundation, ending cash bail may level the playing field for people entering the criminal justice system.

“It gives people an opportunity to be innocent before proven guilty,” Erica Lee, Director of the non-profit’s QC location said.

The group mainly operates out of locations in and around Chicago. It provides formerly incarcerated individuals with job placement, education, and other reentry services.

Lee said ending cash bail can help communities.

“There’s lots of situations where people can’t afford bail,” Lee said. “They could lose their job, they could lose housing, they could even lose their ability to have custody of their kids because they’re not there and present.”

According to Mark McCombs a public policy analyst for Safer, the current system makes it harder for poor individuals to mount a defense. He said ending cash bail will create equity, while also protecting those who may have been falsely accused.

“It protects the poorest who have committed nonviolent crimes, from being locked up and unable to mount a defense,” McCombs said. “At the same time, [it] prevents the most violent and dangerous from being able to buy their way out of prison.”

Critics of the SAFE-T Act claim this will be a threat to the public. While McCombs said it’s not entirely clear which offenses would be eligible for cashless-bond, he argues it will benefit the public.

“Decisions on whether or not an individual will be held in pretrial detention will no longer be based on monetary standard,” McCombs said. “It will be based solely upon the question of whether or not the individual poses a threat to society if they’re released.”

With the lawsuits against the law in mind, McCombs said he would like to see legislators build on the current law to make it clearer for the judiciary in Illinois.

Either way, Lee says the group looks forward to what this means for the state.

“I think that we’ll see the impact once it becomes law in 2023,” Lee said. “It will give people a good chance to continue to work in the community.”

Previously Rock Island County State’s Attorney Dora Villareal mentioned her office was looking to pursue litigation against the law. Also, the Illinois State’s Attorney Association was working on a legislative fix with elected officials.

In an updated statement to TV6 News, she said it seems those agreements have been reached.

“It appears negotiations for amendments have been going well,” Villareal wrote. “We are hopeful to see some changes in the upcoming veto session. "

During a visit to the Quad Cities, Governor J.B. Pritzker responded to the pending lawsuits against the SAFE-T Act.

The governor pointed to misinformation about the law while continuing to defend it. He said the law will protect the public.

Pritzker also said he hopes the General Assembly approves legislation clearing up uncertainties in the veto session next month.

“There are tweaks and changes that ought to be made to the SAFE-T Act,” Pritzker said. “In part to make sure state’s attorneys understand that we’re trying to give judges the power to keep the most violent crimials in jail.”

The GA has two three-day sessions scheduled for the rest of the year. The first one starts on Nov. 15.