Illinois Dems Seek to Tweak Cash-Bail Ban Before it Takes Effect

Illinois lawmakers, meeting in their annual “Veto Session” in Springfield, are taking a look at the controversial SAFE-T Act one last time before it goes into effect next year. The Pretrial Fairness Act portion of the measure abolishes the state’s cash-bail system that critics have called unfair and discriminatory. Democrats, who hold a supermajority in the General Assembly, have said they’re open to minor adjustments to the legislation but don’t support Republican calls for a comprehensive rewrite. Garien Gatewood heads the Illinois Justice Project, part of a coalition that backed the measure. He said they are willing to look at small fixes to ensure the new law is applied fairly.

“The Illinois Justice Project stands in support of the SAFE-T Act,” he said. “Also, we understand that there’s a need to work on some tweaks and some changes to make sure that when the bill rolls out, when the effective date hits, it works.”

GOP legislators and some law-enforcement officials think abolishing cash bail could create a “revolving-door system” that puts criminals back on the street. A hearing is set for Dec. 7 on a lawsuit by 58 Illinois counties challenging the constitutionality of the law. Although endorsed nationwide by many criminal-justice advocates, Illinois would be the first state to abolish the practice of requiring people charged with crimes to post bail – or stay in jail until their trial. Gatewood said people who can’t come up with thousands of dollars to guarantee they’ll come back for their court appearance often lose their jobs, homes and even their families as they wait weeks or months for their day in court.

“The Pretrial Fairness Act is designed to give judges more discretion than they have now,” he said. “It’s actually giving more time to have longer, more detailed hearings than happen now. And quite frankly, in the system that we’re in now, if you have resources, you can almost pay your way out of jail for anything.”

The 800-page Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity-Today Act goes into effect on Jan 1. The General Assembly meets in regular session in January, but holds a two-week mini-session each Fall to pass, amend or veto new and existing legislation.

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