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Illinois Democrats OK Crime Bill Cleanup, Ending Cash Bail

Democrats in charge of the Illinois General Assembly clarified their watershed criminal justice overhaul Thursday, appeasing critics by adding offenses to a list of crimes that qualify a defendant to remain jailed while awaiting trial, reports the Associated Press. The action came on the final day of the legislature's fall session, one month before the Jan. 1 effective date of the "SAFE-T Act." The law changes one fundamental tenet of state jurisprudence by limiting the posting of a cash bond, which critics say only penalizes the poor. The goal of the proposal, which awaits the expected signature of Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, is to detain dangerous people while they await trial, while not locking up those who pose no threat but sit in jail because they can't afford bail. Democrats easily assembled a 3/5 majority vote required by the Constitution to make the plan effective immediately. Republicans could only mock them for having to return repeatedly to make corrections or clarifications.

The SAFE-T Act sets rigorous new training standards for law enforcement by spelling out rules for police in the use of force with troublesome suspects and will require body cameras on all police by 2025. Thursday's focus was on sweeping cash bail out of the door, following a handful of states that prohibit it, including California, New Jersey, Nebraska, Indiana and New York. Republicans agreed that adding crimes to what the law calls the “detention net” greatly improved matters, but they remained worried about the risks of potentially releasing dangerous criminals. They also expressed concern about the short timeline for judges and prosecutors to prepare for the changes, and what they see as the flight into retirement of law enforcement officers over what they consider objectionable parts of the act. Sen. Steve McClure, a Republican former prosecutor, acknowledged the improvements but said the clarifying legislation expands the detention net to include forcible felonies and those not eligible for probation, along with those accused of hate crimes and other serious offenses.


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