Kane County justice officials said they are pleased with the new clarity under revisions to the statewide SAFE-T Act approved recently, but they are still expecting Jan. 1 to be a “confusing and problematic” day as they make the first steps to eliminate cash bail in accordance with state law.
Meanwhile, in Kendall County, State’s Attorney Eric Weis said he is moving forward with litigation that includes a bipartisan group of 62 Illinois state’s attorneys who have filed to overturn the act. Weis said a hearing will be held in Kankakee County on Dec. 20 with a ruling expected on the 28th.
The recently approved trailer bill marks the third time lawmakers have approved amendments to the policy since Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed it into law in early 2021. Proponents of the bill say it is designed to rectify longstanding inequities in the criminal justice system, including the practice of keeping defendants in jail before trial only because they can’t afford to make bail.
Opponents have said the law needed clarification and allowed violent people to be loose on the streets. Recent changes have expanded the list of felonies for which defendants can be detained if the state can show they’re a danger to the public.
Weis said while the trailer bill “is better than what it was, it’s still not where it needs to be.”
Weis said a large concern for him is the lack of judicial discretion to hold people who commit certain offenses and the limit on how long they can be held.
“It’s tough especially when the Supreme Court has moved to have cases be heard quicker,” Weis said. “The ability to hold someone for trial is important under the right circumstances.”
Kane County was one of three courts in Illinois chosen to pilot the bill for the last six months, which Kane County State’s Attorney Jamie Mosser said has helped them get ahead of the curve. However, she still plans to come into the courthouse on New Year’s Day – a Sunday – to see what she expects will be a “confusing and problematic day that we’ll learn from and get better at as we go through it.”
Mosser said in the next few weeks they are focused on redoing some of the forms to be used based on changes to the SAFE-T Act, and doing practice run-throughs to make sure the correct people are in place to implement the new measures.
“I’m trying to hire many, many people to deal with all of this and we are not getting the greatest response, so that’s been difficult,” Mosser said, emphasizing she is looking to hire additional assistant state’s attorneys, advocates, IT support and support staff because the county has to staff a whole new courtroom for condition of release hearings in the mornings and detention hearings in the afternoon due to the act.
Mosser said she expects to see several detention hearings throughout the day, prompting the need for extra staff.
“The pilot program showed we really need staffing to make this successful,” Mosser said. “The resources we have now are not enough to make this what it’s supposed to be. We’ve been advocating for a delay in the implementation along with funding to be provided by the state. The amendment provided funding for the public defender’s office, but not for anyone else in this process, so we’re just trying to make the best of it at this point.”
With little response to the job postings, Mosser said the burden is falling on current staff members. She is worried they will lose staff because of the workload and also because they are unable to compensate the workers as they should.
Leading up to next month, Weis said Kendall County is focused on making sure law enforcement officials are trained on new protocols. He said they are preparing to see more cases filed concerning those who are out on bond or those who will be released pre-trial.
Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain said his office is already positioned with body cameras, enhanced training and policies that meet the act’s requirements.
“I am pleased with the criminal law clarifications in the latest trailer bill and the view that the new law is prospective, meaning that jail doors will not just ‘swing open’ on Jan. 1st,” Hain said.
Chicago Tribune reporters Jeremy Gorner and Dan Petrella contributed to this report.
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December 9, 2022 at 06:47PM