Under the Pretrial Fairness Act, a section of the Safe-T Act, the end to cash bail and the implementation of its alternative goes into effect January 1. In the meantime, State Representative Dave Vella, a Democrat from Rockford, continues to meet with the public safety working group in the Illinois House. They’re looking at questions that are still unanswered, like how much the new process is going to cost and other legitimate concerns about the law.
The Illinois Safe-T Act was a major focus of misinformation and Republican opposition during the past election campaign.
“We’re going to be losing money out of the system, but also [we’re considering] how much cheaper it’s going to be, because there won’t be as many people in custody,” Vella said.
“So, we’re trying to figure out what that number is, then trying to allocate the funds for that. So we’ll probably need some kind of special allotment.”
He said it varies across the state how much court systems and jails depend on fees from bond money to fund their operations.
After January 1, in place of bail, folks charged with low level, non-violent offences will be ticketed and required to appear in court at a later date. A judge can decide to hold a person in detention before they have been sentenced if they are deemed dangerous or a flight risk, using certain criteria.
Prosecutors can also petition the judge for detention. But the threshold they must meet, some state’s attorneys said, is too high. Vella, a former defense attorney, said legislators are working on developing language that addresses their concerns.
“You don’t want somebody who misses the bus, to get a warrant out for them taking into custody, they spent time in over the weekend, and they lose their kids and lose their job,” he said. “But you don’t want somebody who just said, ‘I’m not going to court’ just to be out there without impunity.”
Another item under negotiations is how the law applies to individuals who are currently detained and who have posted bond. Some state’s attorneys have previously told WNIJ that if the law is retrospective, a mechanism will have to be in place that allows for the court system to review and decide on whether current detainees meet the criteria for release.
Vella said he can’t say for certain what proposals will be brought forth for the legislature to consider.
Earlier this month, State Senator Scott Bennet, a Champaign Democrat, filed an amendment, supported by the State’s Attorneys Association, which states pretrial release begins on January 1 but doesn’t apply to those currently detained. It would also lower the threshold for a judge to detain a person they deem a flight risk or a threat to the public.
While Democrats hold a supermajority in both chambers, any amendments will have to gain support from those who have opposed the Safe-T Act, including some Democrats. It will take a two-thirds vote to approve amendments to the law during the veto session which ends on December 1.
Since June of 2021, a taskforce of the Illinois Supreme Court has hosted educational seminars to help the court systems implement changes under a no-cash bail system.