Senator dispels criminal justice reform bill myths during Carbondale livestream event

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CARBONDALE — State Sen. Elgie Sims Jr., D-Chicago, is trying to dispel myths about the newly signed criminal justice reform bill.

Southern Illinoisans weigh in as Pritzker signs justice reform bill

The bill, reported to be among the most comprehensive reforms to the criminal justice system in state history, was signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker Feb. 22.

Among the many sweeping changes in the bill are an end to cash bail, and requirements that every police officer be equipped with a body camera by 2025 and be certified by the state. It also establishes use-of-force regulations that ban choke holds and restraints that inhibit breathing.

“This is a pro-safety, pro-reform, pro-community piece of legislation that is now law,” Sims said during a live-streamed event Monday hosted by the Carbondale Public Library.

Not everyone agrees, though. Police organizations and state’s attorneys across Illinois have been vocal opponents to the bill — specifically about ending cash bail.

The cash bail system is used to ensure a defendant comes to court. Once the designated amount is paid by the defendant, it is set aside and returned to them if they are found not guilty. However, it is taken by the state if the defendant violates the terms of their release or is found guilty of the crime with which they were charged. Defendants can still be detained prior to trial if they’re deemed a flight risk or a risk to the community, as determined by a judge.

The end of cash bail takes effect Jan. 1, 2023.

Sims appeared Monday by Zoom as part of a program hosted by the Carbondale Branch NAACP. He began by introducing the law, which he sponsored in the Senate and referred to as The Safe-T Act. He spent a lot of time explaining what the bill is not and does not include.

“It does not defund the police. It does not remove qualified immunity for law enforcement officers. It does not change or take away collective bargaining rights,” Sims said of the law’s impact on law enforcement. “It does not mean that individuals will not be held accountable for their actions as a result of the Safe-T Act.”

He said a lot of these misconceptions are the result of a misinformation campaign by opponents.

“We have moved past the desires and the issues about public safety and we are over into politics,” Sims said of the pushback.

Sims said the law is a big step forward in eliminating the systemic racism found in the criminal justice system. He was very clear, the state is not less safe because of the reforms.

Opponents say eliminating cash bail puts dangerous criminals back on the street and hamstrings law enforcement and prosecutors from keeping their communities safe.

“If the person is a threat to public safety, he’s not getting out,” Sims said Monday. He said tools are being created to assist judges in deciding a defendant’s level of risk to the community — are they likely to reoffend while out on pretrial release? Are they a flight risk?

“Decisions will not be made based on a person’s access to cash,” he said, which is not a metric that predicts a person’s threat level.

“Money has never been shown to make us more safe,” Sims said.

Nancy Maxwell, criminal justice chair for the Carbondale Branch NAACP, previously spoke to The Southern about the law and specifically the objection to eliminating cash bail.

“I think the people who are objecting to it have not walked a mile in a Black person’s shoes,” she said.

She pointed out that Black men and women are the most likely to be picked up by law enforcement, and because they are also the least likely to be able to afford bail, they are also the most likely to sit in jail before appearing in court.

When asked how people can combat misinformation Sims gave a simple answer.

“Number one, be informed” he said. Attending discussions like the one Monday is one way to do this, he said. But he added that the website, hb3653.org, was also launched to help provide resources about what the law actually says and does for residents of the state.

He said part of the continued push for criminal justice reform is aimed at changing police culture. He said reformers are hoping to shift the focus from the warrior mindset to the guardian mindset. Above all he said supporting law enforcement to do this kind of work is essential.

“Law enforcement officers want to be problem solvers and we want to give them the tools,” Sims said.

Watch now: Illinois criminal justice reform legislation advances

isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

Region: Northern,Region: Kankakee,News

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March 9, 2021 at 08:55PM

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