DuPage County unveils $20M in courtroom renovations ahead of SAFE-T Act implementation

ByRob Hughes WLS logo
Tuesday, September 12, 2023
ABC7 gets inside look at DuPage County's $20M in courtroom renovations
Because Illinois cash bail will soon be eliminated with the SAFE-T Act, more courtroom space is needed.

DUPAGE COUNTY, Ill. (WLS) -- Officials in DuPage County showed off the courtroom changes they've made ahead of next week's wide-scale implementation of the Safe-T Act.

Starting Monday, cash bail will be eliminated in Illinois.

Because of those changes, more courtroom space is needed, and other steps are being taken as well.

ABC7 got a look behind closed doors at DuPage County's newest judicial facilities.

"What people need to realize in DuPage County is, we are the second biggest judicial circuit in this state. We have 48 judges, the second biggest number of judges in this state," said 18th Circuit Chief Judge Kenneth Popejoy.

Popejoy called the new $20 million renovation and expansion "necessary tools."

"We are improving what is being done for crime on the streets, for resolution of crime activity on the streets, and protecting the people of this county," Popejoy said.

SEE ALSO | SAFE-T Act provision ending cash bail constitutional, Illinois Supreme Court rules

The improvements include new courtrooms, a new, expanded grand jury room, more space for the public defender and a renovation of space for the state's attorney. The new square footage means more space for additional staffing necessary to navigate new challenges brought on by the SAFE-T Act.

"We are going to be seven days a week, 365 days a year having detention hearings. These hearings must take place within 24, 48 or 72 hours. We have to be available Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 in the afternoon to do hearings. Bond court never used to be that way; 15-20 minutes, this bond, this bond, this bond, this bond, go home," Popejoy said.

With cash bail gone on Monday, the state's attorney and the public defender are both ramping up preparation for more detention hearings among defendants hoping for pre-trial release.

"In addition to meeting with our client, we get way more information, so we can make an argument about whether it's appropriate that this person is detained or what conditions they can get," said DuPage County Public Defender Jeff York.

While those awaiting trial may get a fairer shake, State's Attorney Robert Berlin wants people of DuPage County to know "That we are doing everything we can to keep them safe."

"Public safety remains the number one priority in this county, as it should. When it comes to public safety, we lead the way in the state of Illinois. We will continue to do so," Berlin added.

With the implementation of the SAFE-T Act coming Monday, the Illinois Supreme Court is allowing more virtual hearings. The new courtrooms there are outfitted to handle proceedings virtually, another example of how the pandemic has changed the way we operate.