Illinois State Senator Scott Bennett has filed legislation to clarify language in the controversial SAFE-T Act and improve how officials can enforce the law.
“As a former prosecutor, I understand the importance of presuming innocence for individuals before being proven guilty, supporting police, and keeping violent criminals out of our neighborhoods,” said Bennett (D-Champaign). “Senate Bill 4228 is an effort to improve consistency in the SAFE-T Act and allow law enforcement officials to continue to effectively perform their duties and protect our communities.”
The intent of the SAFE-T Act aims to do away with cash bail in an effort to end systemic racism in the criminal justice system, according to those who support it. Senate Bill 4228 updates many provisions in the SAFE-T Act by clarifying language to address concerns raised by local law enforcement officials.
Sen. Bennett’s legislation states that pretrial release will apply to individuals arrested on or after Jan. 1, 2023. The measure also permits judges to deny pretrial release for any alleged crime if the person arrested poses a threat to the safety of any person or the community.
This comes after many Illinois Republicans called for changes to the proposed legislation. Earlier this month, Madison County State’s Attorney Thomas Haine penned an open letter to the community in which he called the SAFE-T Act the “greatest jailbreak” in history. According to Haine, half of the jail population in Madison County (over 100 inmates) would be released on January 1 if the Act passes.
“A critical part of our current criminal justice system is our ability to detain some criminal defendants prior to trial when appropriate,” Haine wrote in the letter. “This protects witnesses and victims, stops repeat offenders, and allows a swifter resolution to cases.”
In response, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker sent a letter to Haine, where he said Haine is defending a “criminal justice status quo” where accused murderers, domestic batterers, rapists, and other dangerous criminals “can buy their way out of jail pending trail if they have enough money.”
“Your approach—seeking to deter possible future crimes by punishing individuals accused of less serious offenses before they have the opportunity to defend themselves in court—is contrary to the foundation of our justice system and based on outdated research that has been debunked,” Pritzker said in the letter.
Pritzker claims that the cash bail system contributes to a justice system that disproportionately punishes black and brown citizens.
“The SAFE-T Act ensures that those charged with domestic abuse, murder, rape, and other serious crimes cannot buy their way out of prison—as they can right now—because it bases detention on risk rather than wealth,” Pritzker continued. “That’s why domestic violence advocacy organizations support ending cash bail, including the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who referred to it as reform that prioritizes the safety of survivors.”
According to Pritzker, state attorneys have several options for detention when it comes to defendants who commit offenses such as second-degree murder and aggravated driving under the influence.
“Prosecutors may present evidence that the defendant poses a threat to public safety if the forceable felony involved a family member or domestic violence, or that the defendant used a gun,” Pritzker said. “Furthermore, there is nothing in the SAFE-T Act that prevents prosecutors from using their discretion to charge repeat offenders with higher level felonies when the facts indicate it is appropriate. Under this system, risk, not wealth, determines whether these defendants will be detained prior to their trial.”