SAFE-T Act revisions put public over politics

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Sometimes the voice of common sense can be heard amidst the din of polarizing politics and extremism.

We were encouraged when last week Gov. JB Pritzker signed off on amendments to the SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform measure that will do away with the cash bail system in the new year.

Critics were rightly concerned about provisions that trespassers, for example, could no longer be arrested and that a suspect could only be detained if a threat could be demonstrated against a specific party. The largely Democrat-backed act became a lighting rod during recent county and state elections as opponents claimed violent criminals would be able to roam free while awaiting trial.

Fortunately lawmakers in Springfield took advantage of the fall veto session to implement much needed revisions, including spelling out that all forcible felonies can lead to pretrial detention regardless of a defendant’s eligibility for probation if a judge deems them a danger to the community. Additionally, language was added to clarify that police maintain the authority to arrest trespassers and the discretion to make an arrest for a misdemeanor if someone is a threat to the community or continues to break the law.

“I’m pleased that the General Assembly has passed clarifications that uphold the principle we fought to protect: to bring an end to a system where wealthy violent offenders can buy their way out of jail, while less fortunate nonviolent offenders wait in jail for trial,” Gov. JB Pritzker said in a statement. “Advocates and lawmakers came together and put in hours of work to strengthen and clarify this law, uphold our commitment to equity and keep people safe.”

Under the act, the cash bail system, which in most cases allows offenders to post a dollar amount to be released from custody pretrial, will be replaced by one in which a judge weighs the individual’s risk to the community and potential for fleeing prosecution in determining whether pretrial release will be revoked.

In a recent interview on WGN discussing the revisions, DuPage County State’s Attorney Bob Berlin, a Republican, welcomed the act’s tightened provisions.

“While the changes aren’t perfect, they are a tremendous improvement over what was originally in the law,” Berlin said. “Judges can detain people if they are a threat to the community, and they expanded the number of offenses and the types of offenses someone can be detained for under the definition of dangerousness.

“I think the changes protect the community,” he continued. “I think the judges now have the tools they need, they have the discretion to detain violent criminals. And that’s what we were concerned about.”

We agree that judges’ hands should not be tied in determining whether someone accused of a violent offense should be released before trial, while recognizing that eligibility for release for lesser, nonviolent offenses should not be based solely on one’s financial wherewithal.

Many Republicans remain upset they were left out of the process to craft the revisions. And so it goes. But we’ll try to celebrate this one case where bipartisan-ity seems to have prevailed.

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December 15, 2022 at 12:48AM

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