Illinois first state to abolish cash bail, Gov. Pritzker disputes claim thousands of prisoners to be freed

In a move that has flown under the radar somewhat, the state of Illinois under Democrat control became the first state in the nation to completely abolish cash bail, and thousands of jailed inmates are set to be sprung when the law goes into effect on January 1st, 2023.

The Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act (SAFE-T Act) was signed into law by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker on February 22, 2021, with the legislation designed to do away with the cash bail system that critics allege disproportionately impacts black and brown communities and other underrepresented or impoverished groups — the bill was introduced by the Illinois Black Caucus as part of back legislators’ response to the murder of George Floyd, WTVO reported.

New York, New Jersey, California, and a few other states have recently reformed their bail laws and eliminated cash bail for many offenses, but the Illinois law goes much further.

A number of Illinois state’s attorneys have sued Pritzker challenging the constitutionality of the state’s new “no cash bail” provision in the SAFE-T Act, according to the ABC affiliate.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley is one of the prosecutors filing a lawsuit and he expressed concern about the safety of the community.

“I cannot ignore that, as currently drafted, this law is unconstitutional. Further, it will create unjust results and does not protect the public. Accordingly, it is my duty as your State’s Attorney to fight it,” Hanley said, according to WTVO.

DuPage County state’s attorney Robert Berlin is also concerned about a rise in crime.

“I’m very concerned about an increase in violent crime. But again I do want to stress there is still time to fix it,” he said, according to MSN. “And the state’s attorneys are working very hard as we have been for the last year and a half to fix this law. It is very fixable, where we can still eliminate cash bail but make sure the right people are in custody and everybody else who’s not a danger gets out.”

“It is of the utmost importance as a state attorney’s office that the Constitution is abided by on all levels,” Mercer County State Attorney Grace Simpson said in a statement. “As the chief legal officer in Mercer County, it would be unethical to move forward with the implementation of the SAFE-T [Act], without properly raising those concerns to the court.”

Haney expects the numerous county lawsuits will be consolidated into one. He also stressed that he is “not a proponent of returning to a cash bail system,” but said he “will remain a vocal critic of this current version of the law because of its shortcomings.”

Based on the assumption of innocence guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, a person arrested after Jan. 1 may be released without bail prior to trial, although some crimes are exempt from consideration, such as forcible felonies, stalking, and domestic abuse.

As many as 400 inmates would be released in Winnebago County under the SAFE-T Act, according to Haney, and last week the Winnebago County Board voted against supporting the law, WTVO reported.

In somewhat of a creative spin, Gov. Pritzker defends the law by claiming people accused of the worst crimes would not be able to bail out of jail.

“No one is getting let out of jail on Jan. 1,” Pritzker reportedly said. “That is not what the SAFE-T Act does. There is no such thing as a non-detainable offense. That is not in the SAFE-T Act.”

“The SAFE-T Act is designed to keep murderers and rapists and domestic abusers in jail,” he added. “Right now they can buy their way out, we want to keep them in jail with a Pre-trial Fairness Act.”

The new law is being compared online to the horror movie series “The Purge,” which takes place in a dystopian future where the U.S. government legalizes any and all criminal activity, including murder, for an annual 24-hour period.


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Tom Tillison


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