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At the center of political campaigns, Illinois’ SAFE-T law is expected to be amended this year | Chicago News

Illinois’ new law overhauling the criminal justice system took center stage in this year’s election.

Critics liken it to a horror movie where criminals roam free, and supporters defend it for making overdue changes that confront structural racism and ensure individuals aren’t left to rot behind bars just because ‘they are poor.

The law, known as the SAFE-T law, will eliminate cash bail in January.

But it’s likely the law will see its own overhaul — or at least, tweaks — before that.

Lawmakers approved the SAFE-T Act at the request of the Black Caucus in January 2021 as part of Black lawmakers’ response to the murder of George Floyd.

“It’s about trying to build a process that allows people to have faith in the system and to build a process where justice is fairer,” said state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D -Peoria, member of the Black Caucus.

Her own stepson was murdered in 2014.

“Crime is something that has been prevalent in many communities in Illinois. I myself am the victim of a crime. My family has seen the worst of all aspects of this issue,” she said. “For someone to think that anyone would be a supporter of crime is foolish and it’s quite absurd.”

Several state attorneys filed a lawsuit, asking the courts to strike down the law altogether. The latest lawsuit was filed Tuesday by Brown County State’s Attorney Michael Hill and Brown County Sheriff Justin Oliver.

Hill declined to comment.

The complaint challenges how the law was passed, as well as what it does. He also alleges that the SAFE-T law is too vague, creating problems for state prosecutors and sheriffs tasked with enforcing aspects of it that deal with bail and bail clearance. cash.

“Despite monthly meetings since July 2021, the Pretrial Practices Oversight Council has been unable to articulate uniform guidelines for complying with this law,” the complaint states. “Public Law 101-652 imposes new procedural requirements on peace officers, state attorneys, and judges without specifying how those requirements can be met.”

Gordon-Booth is also co-chair of the Illinois Crime Reduction Task Force, which met for the first time on Tuesday, and said lawmakers should not shy away from discussing the SAFE-T Act. , whether politically motivated by the November elections. within a month or if they are genuine.

She said she had regular conversations about potential changes, including a meeting Tuesday with the attorney for an unspecified state.

“There is a lot of agreement on the changes that need to be made. The conversations that are taking place are what I would describe as incredibly productive and I think they have the ability to get us to a really good place in a matter of weeks. I’m convinced of that,” Gordon-Booth said. “We can’t go into December without doing it. Must take place in November.

Springfield has already made several changes to the SAFE-T law by passing what are known as trailer bills.

Gordon-Booth said another will come when lawmakers return to Springfield for a six-day veto session scheduled for Nov. 15, a week after the election.

State Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, is the sponsor of a measure that could become the fourth SAFE-T follow-up bill.

He said that is not an indication that the first law was flawed; tracking bills are common.

“Frankly, legislation that has far less significance, far less consequence than a criminal law reform bill would have, we expect to have trailer legislation,” Bennett said.

Still, Bennett said he wishes some of the issues with the SAFE-T Act had been resolved sooner.

“Quite honestly, I would have liked to see any type of adjustment or clarification bill done sooner because then you would give all of these stakeholders that we talked about more time to work it into their system,” did he declare. “But the thing is, I had lunch today with one of the chief justices of my district and he was pretty clear that we’re going to get there – whatever it is, we’re professionals, we’ll figure out how to do it.

One of the main complaints from critics is that the SAFE-T Act sets the bar too high for someone to be considered a flight risk.

Bennett’s plan would give judges more leeway to determine whether someone is likely to flee and therefore should not be released before trial.

His measure would also ensure that pre-departure release provisions are not retroactive. They would come into force from January 1.

The Coalition to End Money Bond said in a statement that Bennett’s changes would ‘create a pretrial system far worse than the one in place today’ and ‘are in complete opposition to the spirit of these calls for justice. race and criminal justice reform.The Pretrial Fairness Act was designed to ensure that everyone has access to the presumption of innocence, and the changes included in SB4228 would deprive all Illinois of that right.

Bennett said he was open to changing the date, but the process for what happens to those already in jail on Jan. 1 needs to be fine-tuned.

“Everything is in place for negotiation, but you have to tell me what the process will look like,” Bennett said. “There simply aren’t enough courtrooms or defense attorneys to get everyone out of jail who is in jail on January 1 and put them through the required hearing within 48 hours by fairness law before trial.”

Booth said that given the sensitive nature of the ongoing talks, she cannot share specifics about what a compromise might entail, but she said changes could address aspects of the SAFE-T Act that, according to members of the criminal justice system, will interfere with their ability to process criminal cases in a timely manner.

She said she experienced first-hand “all things that can go right and all things that can go wrong” during a trial.

“Whether it’s not being able to locate a witness, not being able to go back in time,” Gordon Booth said. “We want to be sensitive to these things.”

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @amandavinicky