Illinois law eliminating cash bail faces criticism, but supporters say it makes system fairer

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Thursday, September 15, 2022
IL law eliminating cash bail criticized; does it make system fairer?
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Critics say the Safe-T Act, which will eliminate cash bail in Illinois as of January 1, is dangerous. Supporters say it makes the system fairer.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Safe-T Act, a criminal justice reform bill that eliminates cash bail in Illinois, is coming under increasing scrutiny.

Critics say the bill will make it very difficult to detain some dangerous criminals. Supporters say it will make the criminal justice system more fair.

Some state lawmakers and advocates for ending cash bail attended into bond court Thursday afternoon at 26th and California to get a firsthand look at the way the system now works.

READ MORE: Illinois law eliminating cash bail has some in law enforcement concerned

"One of the things I saw in bond court that sort of sticks out to me is how arbitrary the system is," said State Sen. Robert Peters, (D-Chicago).

Beginning January 1, 2023, cash bail will be eliminated in Illinois, ending a system where poor defendants often languish in jail pre-trial because they cannot afford to post bond.

"They lose their jobs, they lose custody of their children and as a result they have a higher likelihood that they will be rearrested in the future," said Pastor Charles Straight of Faith United Methodist Church in Dolton.

Republican candidate for attorney general Tom Devore raised new concerns about the Safe-T Act.

He noted that for some forcible felonies, such as second degree murder or kidnapping, suspects will be released without even having a detention hearing because of the way the new law defines flight risk.

"It's a very high burden and you have to show that they're actually in the process of contemplating it and you cannot use, well they have not showed up to court in the past on other cases, that's not even a factor," Devore said. "Proving high likelihood of flight is a red herring, it's almost never going to happen."

The bill's sponsor joined reform advocates in arguing that ending cash bail will not make communities less safe, but it will make the system fairer.

"You are presumed innocent until proven guilty. But under this current cash bail system you don't get that benefit," said State Rep Justin Slaughter.

Critics said eliminating cash bail disincentivizes people from returning to court to stand trial.

But the governor continues to defend the landmark bill.

"Are there changes or adjustments that need to be made, of course, and there have been adjustments," Governor JB Pritzker said.

Lawmakers said discussions are underway and there will be changes to address a number of concerns about the law before it goes into effect on January 1.