Oct 3, 2022 - News

The bail reform debate in Illinois

Illustration of the "No" symbol merged with jail cell bars.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

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.

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.

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.

flow chart about jailing people before trial
Source: Illinois Supreme Court PFA Implementation Task Force.

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