The bail reform debate in Illinois
Bail changes coming to Illinois as part of the 2021 "SAFE-T Act" are driving a flood of dire predictions and public safety debates.
Why it matters: The Pretrial Fairness Act (PFA) doesn't start until January, but the new rules are already a huge factor in this fall's election.
- And misinformation in media and political ads have left many confused about what the law entails.
Catch up quick: The measure reforms the current "cash bail" system that bases the freedom of people awaiting trial largely on their ability to pay money.
- Bail reform advocates note the current system disproportionately affects communities of color.
- The new rule replaces cash bail with a judge's determination on the defendant's risk to the public.
What they're saying: "If someone's going to be detained, it should not be because they don't have cash," Northwestern University law professor Alexa Van Brunt told BlockClub.
- "It should be because there's … clear and convincing evidence by the prosecutor that there’s an identifiable public safety threat or the person is a flight risk."
The other side: Conservative websites suggest the PFA includes a list of dangerous "non-detainable" offenses — crimes that judges supposedly can't jail people for as they await trial.
Reality check: The term "non-detainable" doesn't appear in the law. Judges can detain defendants charged with anything over a class 4 felony (the lowest felony level) after weighing safety and flight risk issues.
- They can also detain some charged with class 4 felonies and misdemeanors that involve stalking, domestic abuse, guns and sex violations.
Yes, but: Even some Democrats who think bail needs fixing have problems with the PFA.
- Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow sued Illinois officials over the measure, saying it was unconstitutionally passed and should have been put to a referendum as similar changes were in New Jersey.
- He tells Axios he thinks the bar to prove likelihood of "willful flight" is too high, and he opposes the automatic release of those not tried within 90 days.
What's next: The original version of the PFA has been amended and will probably see more changes through the work of the PFA Implementation Task Force and during the fall veto session.
- "There have been adjustments made, and there will continue to be," Gov. JB Pritizker said of the bail measure in September. "Laws are not immutable."
Of note: This is the first of our series this week clarifying upcoming bail reform ahead of early voting — which starts Friday.
Check out the rest of our stories in this series:
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