Illinois Dems Tighten Parts of Criminal Justice Overhaul

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — More crimes, including some nonviolent offenses, would be added to a list that could disqualify defendants in court from being released while awaiting trial under follow-up legislation filed Wednesday to a contentious criminal justice overhaul.

It’s a key component to clarifications Illinois Democratic lawmakers are making to the SAFE-T Act, a sweeping update to rules governing jail time while awaiting trial and the use of force by police. The overhaul also mandates more law enforcement training, requires the use of body cameras and establishes a more defined system for police complaints. It sparked heated election debate this fall over its elimination of cash bail.

Wednesday’s legislation filed by Sen. Robert Peters, a Democrat from Chicago, also clarifies what a prosecutor needs to prove to a judge that a defendant is a danger to others and should be detained. In addition, it allows judges to consider past instances of failing to appear in court when determining pretrial detention and establishes a grant program to help the state’s public defenders handle an expected caseload increase.

The law takes effect Jan. 1. Lawmakers say they will take action on it before their fall session adjourns Thursday.

“We had a host of conversations throughout the fall and through this month that has led to this trailer bill,” Peters said. “My hope is that we’re able to get this done this week so on Jan. 1, Illinois could be at the forefront of pretrial justice.”

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The SAFE-T Act, borne of outrage over the 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, has been a cause of suspicion since it was adopted in the early morning hours of a lame-duck session in January 2021. It drew the ire of police organizations who claimed it weakened their power and some state’s attorneys who believed it would allow dangerous criminals to roam free after arrest because there’s no bail.

Proponents, basing their work on recommendations by the Illinois Supreme Court’s Commission on Pretrial Practices, declared bail a “penalty on the poor,” saying a detained defendant quickly loses his or her job, suffers separation from family and has difficulty working with a defense lawyer. Affluent defendants, on the other hand, can pay their way out of jail through bail.

But they said misinformation has often held sway. Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey, in an unsuccessful attempt to unseat incumbent Gov. J.B. Pritzker, promised to repeal the law, claiming it would install a “revolving door” on every jail in the state. While contending such “red-herring” issues have spread fear, House negotiator and Peoria Democrat Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, like Peters, said she’s known there were clarifications necessary.

The latest proposal adds offenses to the so-called detention net — crimes that qualify a suspect for detention, which already included a litany of violent offenses. Additions include crimes that require jail or prison time and not probation, all forcible felonies, hate crimes, animal torture and DUI causing great bodily harm. Judges may also choose to release such suspects.

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

Also Wednesday, the House agreed with Senate changes to Rep. Lindsey LaPointe’s measure to order state divestment in Russia for its ongoing war against Ukraine. The action by the House, which initially approved the plan in April, sends the bill to the governor. Pritzker called for such action immediately after the invasion.

The Russia divestment bill is HB1293.

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