(The Center Square) – A bipartisan group of Illinois state’s attorneys are worried about what will happen to the criminal justice system with the implementation of the SAFE-T Act.
The Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity-Today Act includes several changes to many areas of the criminal justice system, including pre-arrest diversion, policing, pretrial, sentencing, and corrections. The measures were pushed through the General Assembly by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus and passed in the middle of the night with very little debate in January 2021.
During a briefing for the media Tuesday, several state’s attorneys shared concerns about the measure that Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law last year.
One of the provisions that worries law enforcement officials the most is the ending of cash bail Jan. 1. The state’s attorneys said the provision will allow violent offenders to be released with a higher burden of proof required to hold them before trial.
“This is reality,” one state’s attorney said. “With this new law, our hands will be tied. What sane citizen in this state of Illinois would want the state’s attorney’s hands tied, the police hands tied, and give all the perks going to violent offenders. That’s what this law does.”
Another state’s attorney said it’s unclear how the law could be challenged in the courts, but that could come from a victim claiming their rights were violated by the act.
Critics argue eliminating bail contradicts previously established law and places crime victims at a greater risk to be re-victimized, and unnecessarily subjects witnesses to threats and intimidation.
Members of the Legislative Black Caucus released a statement earlier this year on Republican efforts to repeal the SAFE-T Act.
“Many provisions of the SAFE-T Act have not even gone into effect yet, proving the Republican gambit is all for show. In fact, when fully implemented, experts say the SAFE-T Act will help improve public safety by supporting a more holistic approach for first-responders. Instead of coming up with solutions to address crime, Republicans are just trying the same racial scare tactics we see across the country,” the statement said.
During a Paul Simon Public Policy Institute appearance, state Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, said some Democrats have realized they may have gone too far with some of the changes.
“What we’ve seen is when this criminal justice legislation was passed into law, the fact that a lot of the Democrats saw that some of the issues that they may have not seen in the fine print of the legislation, so they see that there are some repeals that need to be made,” Fowler said.
Fowler also thinks some of the SAFE-T Act standards for policing, including the use-of-force and a requirement that all police officers wear body cameras, is driving people away from law enforcement.
“It’s been very frustrating to see our law enforcement officers retire early, some of our sheriff’s retire early, and our students not wanting to go into the law enforcement field,” Fowler said.
Democrats passed a measure in the House with cleanup language to the SAFE-T Act, but the measure wasn’t called in the Senate. Republicans say the measure wouldn’t assuage law enforcement concerns anyway.
April 26, 2022 at 05:26PM