Illinois Dems are tightening parts of criminal justice overhaul

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — More crimes, including some nonviolent crimes, would be added to a list that could bar defendants in court from release while awaiting trial filed Wednesday following a controversial criminal justice overhaul.

It is a key component of clarifications that the Illinois Democratic Legislature is making to the SAFE-T Act, a major update of the rules on prison time while awaiting trial and the use of force by police. The revision also mandates more law enforcement training, requires the use of body cameras and introduces a more clearly defined police complaints system. It sparked a heated electoral debate this fall about abolishing cash deposits.

The bill, introduced Wednesday by Senator Robert Peters, a Chicago Democrat, also clarifies what a prosecutor must prove to a judge that an accused is a danger to others and should be jailed. It also allows judges to consider previous cases of no-shows in court when deciding on pre-trial detention and introduces a grant program to help the state’s public defenders deal with an expected surge in cases.

The law comes into effect on January 1st. Lawmakers say they will take action before their fall session adjourns on Thursday.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations over the fall and this month that have resulted in this trailer bill,” Peters said. “I hope we can get that done this week so Illinois could be at the forefront of the investigative jurisdiction by January 1.”

The SAFE-T Act, buoyed by outrage over the 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, has been a source of suspicion since its passage in the wee hours of a lame duck session in January 2021. It drew ire from police organizations, who claimed it had weakened their power, and some prosecutors, who believed it would allow dangerous criminals to roam freely after arrest because there is no bail.

Proponents, basing their work on recommendations from the Illinois Supreme Court’s Commission on Pretrial Practices, have declared bail a “punishment for the poor,” saying a jailed defendant quickly loses his job, suffers separation from his family, and faces difficulties to work with a defense attorney . Wealthy defendants, on the other hand, can pay their way out of prison with bail.

But they said misinformation has often reigned. Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey, in an unsuccessful attempt to unseat incumbent governor JB Pritzker, promised to repeal the law and claimed it would install a “revolving door” in every jail in the state. While confrontation with such “redemptions” has spread fear, House Negotiator and Peoria Democratic Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth, like Peters, said she knew clarifications were needed.

The latest proposal adds offenses to the so-called net of imprisonment – offenses that qualify a suspect for imprisonment, which already included a litany of violent crimes. Additions include crimes requiring jail or jail time and no parole, all violent crimes, hate crimes, animal cruelty, and DUI causing major physical harm. Judges can also release such suspects.

“We still have a very clear net of adhesion, judges have discretion within that net of adhesion,” Peters said. “But again, the intent and core elements of this legislation remain intact.”

Also on Wednesday, the House of Representatives, with Senate amendments, agreed to the action of Representative Lindsey LaPointe to order state divestments in Russia over its ongoing war with Ukraine. Action by the House of Representatives, which originally approved the plan in April, sends the bill to the governor. Pritzker called for such action immediately after the invasion.


The SAFE-T law is HB1095.

The disposal law for Russia is HB1293.


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