Multiple new laws went into effect January 1, 2023. Among the recent Illinois legislative changes is the SAFE-T Act, which amended prison policy, criminal sentencing, and police reforms. Whether you or a loved one are currently facing criminal charges, or you simply want to be an informed citizen, it is important to understand the changes implemented by the SAFE-T Act.
Ending of Cash Bail is Still Uncertain
The Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act or SAFE-T Act passed the Illinois legislature in 2021 but some elements of the act are still in limbo. One of the main purposes of the legislation is to end the cash bail system – a matter that has been the subject of controversy and criticism for years. Cash bail is a system used by the criminal justice system to ensure that people who are charged with crimes show up to their court dates. This system requires individuals to pay money as collateral for their release from jail, and if they do not appear in court for their scheduled date, then the money will be forfeited. It also allows individuals to be released from jail while they wait for their trial, rather than being held without bond or detained for extended periods of time. Many people believe that the cash bail disproportionately affects individuals who are unable to post a large amount of money, while favoring wealthy individuals.
The Illinois Supreme Court halted the abolition of cash bail for now and will hear arguments about this key provision of the SAFE-T Act in March. For now, it is uncertain whether Illinois will eliminate the cash bail system.
If the cash bail system is eliminated and the SAFE-T Act is passed in full, Illinois defendants may only be held in custody if the prosecution can show that the defendant poses a threat to another person or that they have a high likelihood of flight. Individuals accused of certain violent offenses including criminal sexual assault, murder, and kidnapping may also be denied pretrial release.
Other Provisions of the SAFE-T Act Are in Effect
In addition to ending the cash bail system, the SAFE-T Act also initiated police reforms, prison reforms, and sentencing reforms. The new legislation includes provisions that:
Require all police to wear body cameras by 2025
Limits the use of force by police
Expand the misconduct database
Prohibit certain types of military equipment
Remove police discipline from the collective bargaining process
Expand police training requirements
The act gives detainees the right to make phone calls after being taken into custody, increased the sentence credit for work release and educational programs, and increased services for pregnant prisoners. Additionally, certain drug offenses will now be treated as misdemeanors so that the defendants can participate in probation and diversion programs. The length of parole has been reduced for certain offenses, and additional daily life activities will be permitted for those on electronic monitoring. The act also limits when a prosecutor may file first-degree murder charges. Lastly, the act reduces the circumstances under which an individual’s driver’s license may suspended.
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