This editorial represents the consensus opinion of the Daily Herald Editorial Board
Doubtless, the various claims and counterclaims about the new SAFE-T Act intended to dramatically reform the state’s criminal justice system have most Illinoisans’ heads spinning, and it’s tough to be confident that negotiations under way to address complaints about the legislation are going to help much,
But there is a word that could go a long way toward that goal if only lawmakers from both parties would employ it as the discussions proceed.
It’s a term that has been lacking almost from the beginning in the politics of this bill, which was basically sprung on the General Assembly by Democrats in the crush of the final days of the legislative session, then misrepresented and distorted as a political talking point for Republicans during the course of the General Election campaign.
Now that the election dynamics have been sorted out, it’s time for lawmakers to get serious about a bill whose primary objective ought to be supported by everyone — to bring more justice to the justice system, improve safety for crime victims and unclog our jails of individuals awaiting trial on less-serious crimes.
That all but two of the state’s attorneys from Illinois’ 102 counties believe the law does not achieve those aims is a sign of the importance of the work that needs to be done. And the strength of that sign is punctuated by litigation filed by 60 of those prosecutors seeking to delay or block implementation of the act.
But our minds also turn to a guest column published in the Daily Herald last April by two representatives of victim’s rights groups strongly supportive of the bill.
“Ending the use of money bail and implementing comprehensive hearings through the Pretrial Fairness Act [one element of the comprehensive SAFE-T Act] ensures that all survivors have access to the safety and support they deserve,” wrote Madeleine Behr, policy manager at the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, and Amanda Pyron, executive director of The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence.
And, we’re encouraged by the words of Downers Grove Republican Senate Minority Leader-elect John Curran in a report by Capitol News Illinois: “There’s no reason we can’t be fair and, at the same time, protect public safety. That’s where this needs to ultimately land.”
Actually, there are at least two reasons: One, if supporters continue to shut out the voices of concern about the bill and, two, if opponents continue to advance hyperbolic false claims about what it says.
As our Cops & Crime columnists Charles Keeshan and Susan Sarkauskas reported before the election, most of the alarmist claims about the Act’s “presumption in favor of pretrial release” are false, but as Curran and other critics have noted, that doesn’t mean the system the law creates is perfect.
Surely, for example, more can be done to reassure police and prosecutors that the bill won’t make their job of keeping people safe harder. And, surely, a state whose leaders are now touting the advances they’ve made toward economic stability can find some resources to help local agencies acquire the personnel and equipment the new law’s requirements impose on them.
These seem likely places to start, but the ultimate success of the negotiations under way depends on the sincere effort of all involved to get this important legislation right.
Sen. Robert Peters, a Chicago Democrat, told Capitol News Illinois his party is ready to “have conversations and negotiate” as long as Republicans “engage in an authentic and fair manner when it comes to what’s going to happen with this bill.”
That’s a promise that places responsibility on all parties involved in enacting these reforms. Illinoisans are counting on them to take it seriously.
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November 19, 2022 at 06:51PM