Illinois prosecutors, governor dispute over Safe-T Act

EDWARDSVILLE, Illinois — A showdown is brewing over Illinois’ Safe-T Act, a new law that aims to free thousands from county jails early in the new year.

Democrats and Republicans are trying to strike down the legislation. One of her main supporters, Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker, stands with her.

There are currently approximately 260 inmates at the Madison County Jail in Edwardsville. Madison County Attorney Tom Haine has claimed that about half of the 260 inmates will no longer be allowed to be locked up when the new law goes into effect. He said that number will include dangerous criminals.

“The state of Illinois has already been the subject of several lawsuits by Democratic state attorneys (over the Safe-T Act),” Haine said. “I’m seriously considering it.”

The law has abolished cash bail in all cases. It still allows suspects to be arrested without bail for crimes without parole such as first-degree murder, as well as cases such as domestic assault and stalking, provided there remains a “real and present” threat to a specific individual.

Those opposed to the new law say it leaves loopholes for first-time felony offenders to avoid jail while awaiting trial, as long as they don’t use a firearm.

For example, a suspect in an armed robbery 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 pistol or rifle.

“The risk to innocent civilians would no longer be a reason for a judge to arrest someone on a first-time kidnapping charge or a first-time burglary charge; even second-degree murder, arson,” Haine said.

Haine and Pritzker were recently in a political “letter war” over the bill. At least three Democratic prosecutors, including Jersey County, have filed lawsuits to strike down the law.

The governor defended his claims that the new law will help end inequality among people of color who are being jailed because they can’t afford bail.

“The Safe-T Act was designed to keep murderers, rapists and domestic abusers in prison…and to address the problem with the current system that allows these people, murderers and domestic abusers, to buy their freedom by posting bail. ‘ said Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker.

“We collect 4,000 felonies annually in Madison County,” said Haine. “We calculate many more thousands of traffic and administrative offense cases. We currently have 268 people detained in our prison. These are not the numbers of an abusive system…our bail system is not perfect. It should be reformed. The notion that the system routinely holds petty offenders on bail is wrong.”

The governor admits changes and adjustments may be needed. Illinois State Senator Scott Bennett, a Democrat from Champaign, has tabled a new bill before the new law goes into effect on January 1. Illinois prosecutors, governor dispute over Safe-T Act

Sarah Y. Kim

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