EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – A showdown is brewing over the Safe-T Act in Illinois, a new law designed to free thousands from county jails at the start of the new year.
Democrats and Republicans are trying to strike down the legislation. One of its chief proponents, Democrat Governor J.B. Pritzker, is standing by it.
There are currently about 260 inmates in the Madison County Jail in Edwardsville. Madison County State’s Attorney, Tom Haine, has claimed about half of the 260 inmates may no longer be locked up when the new law takes effect. He said that number will include dangerous criminals.
“The State of Illinois has already been subject to multiple lawsuits by Democrat state’s attorneys (over the Safe-T Act),” Haine said. “I’m seriously considering it.”
The law abolished cash bail in all cases. It still allows suspects to be detained with no bail for “non-probation” offenses like first-degree murder, along with cases like domestic battery and stalking, provided there remains a “real and present” threat to a specific person.
Those who oppose the new law say it leaves loopholes for first-time violent offenders with felony crimes to avoid jail while awaiting trial, as long as they did not use a firearm.
For instance, an armed robbery suspect appears to be judged differently in the eyes of the law if the suspect used a knife or crowbar to commit the crime, as opposed to a handgun or rifle.
“Risk to innocent civilians would no longer be a reason for a judge to detain someone who’s charged for the first time offense of kidnapping, or for the first time offense of burglary; even second degree murder, arson,” Haine said.
Haine and Pritzker have been in a political “letter” war recently over the bill. At least three Democrat state’s attorneys, including Jersey County, have filed suits to strike down the law.
The governor defended his claims that the new law will help end the disparity of people of color imprisoned because they can’t afford bail.
“The Safe-T Act is designed to keep murderers, rapists, and domestic abusers in jail … and to address the problem of the current system which allows those people, murderers and domestic abusers, to buy their way out just by paying bail,” said Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
“We charge 4,000 felonies a year in Madison County,” Haine said. “We charge many more thousands traffic and misdemeanor cases. We have 268 people currently detained in our jail. Those are not the numbers of an abusive system…our cash bail system is not perfect. It should be reformed. The idea that the system is routinely locking up trivial, low-level offenders on bail is false.”
The governor admits changes and adjustments may be needed. Illinois State Senator Scott Bennett, a Democrat from Champaign, has filed a new bill to do so before the new law takes effect on January 1.