SAFE-T Act Creates Confusion and Division in Illinois

Patrick Sanner, Writer

The Illinois SAFE-T Act, which stands for Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today, was signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on January 22, 2021. 

The bill brought revisions to the three main aspects of the criminal justice system: policing, pretrial, and corrections. The main subject of controversy regarding this act is the Pretrial Fairness Act, and how it has abolished cash bail.

Cash bail is when a defendant pays money to avoid being held in jail until the trial. Once the defendant has made all their necessary court appearances, they receive their payment back. Essentially, it acts as an incentive for defendants to appear in court. 

However, starting January 1st, 2023, cash bail will longer be used in Illinois courts. Instead, the judge will decide if the defendant shall be imprisoned prior to their trial. If the defendant poses a flight risk, which is the chance a person has of fleeing the country before their trial, or if they have been proven too dangerous to be let back out into the public through evidence provided by the prosecutors, then may they be detained. 

Specifically, the Pretrial Fairness Act states that all defendants charged with forcible felonies, such as first-degree murder and sexual assault, do not need a flight risk or substantial evidence to be detained pretrial. The law does not completely stop judges from detaining defendants, but rather adds more requirements and increases the difficulty of doing so. 

As a result of cash bail being abolished, the amount of people that can be incarcerated before a guilty verdict will be reduced. The law has greatly reduced the circumstances in which a judge is allowed to order the detainment of a defendant before their trial.

Twelve offenses have been made “non-detainable,” meaning that people accused of these crimes cannot be detained by a judge unless they have a flight risk, or proved to pose a danger to their community. The 12 offenses are second-degree murder, aggravated battery, arson, drug-induced homicide, burglary, robbery, intimidation, aggravated DUI, aggravated fleeing and alluding, drug offenses, threatening a public official, and kidnapping. 

Democrats support this bill, as they believe that abolishing cash bail will also abolish a system that favors the rich and harms the poor. One example used to justify their opinion is that a wealthy drug dealer is more likely to pay bail and avoid pretrial detainment, whilst a poor dealer who committed the same crime has a higher chance of being detained since they might be unable to afford the bail. 

Republicans, however, oppose the act. Detractors have dubbed The Pretrial Fairness Act the “Purge Law,” comparing it to the horror movie franchise The Purge, in which all crime is legal for 24 hours, giving criminals and everyone else in the world total freedom to do whatever they want without any repercussions. Through social media platforms like TikTok and YouTube, they have expressed their disapproval of the law and elevated fears of Illinois making “The Purge” a reality. 

They are very concerned that this act will “let criminals loose” and allow them to commit more crimes without any legal intervention. Additionally, they claim that making 12 offenses “non-detainable” would incite an increase in violent crimes throughout the state. Serious offenders, such as kidnappers or robbers, might be given too much freedom and power. 

This could make people feel unsafe if this law were to be enacted, as putting criminals accused of severe crimes like second-degree murder back onto the streets could pose a serious threat to the public’s safety and well-being. 

Regardless of where you stand on the matter, there is no denying that the Pretrial Fairness Act will have a monumental impact on the criminal justice system in Illinois.

It is important that we educate ourselves and stay up to date on this law, as it might just be the most important change coming to the state in 2023.