Rockford-area residents will gather info on Pretrial Fairness Act – Rockford Register Star

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Some Rockford area residents will go to court next month — not because they did something wrong, but rather to make sure the court does everything right.

On Monday, about a dozen Winnebago County residents attended a virtual training session with the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice.

The training was offered to members of the public in preparation for court watching after Jan. 1 when the Pretrial Fairness Act goes into effect. The Pretrial Fairness Act is a controversial provision within the SAFE-T Act that puts an end to money bond starting Jan. 1.

The attendees were informed of changes to the pre-trial court processes and have volunteered to sit in court next month to help identify if the courts are implementing the Pretrial Fairness Act as they should.

“Now that the SAFE-T Act and Pretrial Fairness Act has passed and the trailer bills have passed, counties across Illinois are preparing to go observe (initial court appearances) and ensure that the law is implemented as intended,” said the Rev. Violet Johnicker, associate director of Rockford Urban Ministries.

More:Rockford-area state’s attorney says Winnebago County to remain part of SAFE-T Act lawsuit

Rockford Urban Ministries., an outreach of the United Methodist Church and longtime champion of social justice causes, is one of more than 40 organizations across the state that are part of the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice.

The coalition of members have focused on reducing pretrial incarceration in Illinois largely by seeking to end money bond. Justice reform advocates say the current system of holding people who have not been convicted of a crime behind bars simply because they cannot afford to post bond is not just and negatively impacts the poor and people of color.

Under the new law, whether or not a person is held pretrial will be based on the public’s safety and the individual’s likelihood to show up for his or her court appearances.

Winnebago County is one of eight Illinois counties where volunteers are being asked to attend initial court appearances starting Jan. 9 and will continue to do so until an unspecified date in February.

They will be asked to note the names of the judge, the name of the accused, case number, race, gender and charges, if a detention hearing was requested and granted and whether the accused was placed on electronic monitoring.

The volunteers also will be asked to note if all the participants were comfortable with the new proceedings, what went well and what did not go so well.

Their findings as well as those from other participating counties will then be sent to the Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization that according to its website, “works to interrupt cycles of poverty, mass incarceration, and racial injustice perpetrated by all aspects of the legal system.”

“I think we’re really just interested broadly in how the courts are implementing the new laws,” said Sarah Stoudt, Chicago Appleseed policy director. “Every county is going to be a little different in terms of the way that they go about these procedures, and we’re just interested in observing what’s going well and what we may need to talk to our stakeholders about.”

Chris Green: 815-987-1241; cgreen@rrstar.com; @chrisfgreen

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December 21, 2022 at 08:19AM

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