Cashless bail law becomes lighting rod in Illinois before November’s election

Law set to take effect in January illuminates cash bill for many crimes.

Updated: September 21, 2022 - 11:53pm

As Illinois looks to become the first state in the country to abolish cash bail, battle lines have been drawn from both sides of the issue before the November election.

The measure is part of the SAFE-T Act, an acronym for "Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today." The law would allow pre-trial detainees to be released from jail for numerous crimes, including second-degree murder and kidnapping.

The bill passed with the support of Chicago Democrats. Proponents of the law say it is wrong to keep people locked up simply because they can't afford bail.

"The status quo is what makes communities unsafe," said Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, during a recent news conference. "The violence we see today is due to a system that ties freedom to money, that allows some people–especially those who are a threat to others–to pay bond and be released from jail."

Attorney Thomas DeVore, who is a Republican running for Illinois attorney general, said at a news conference Wednesday that Democratic legislators overstepped their legal bounds with the SAFE-T Act.

"The court that we have is set up to administer justice. They get to decide how that justice is administered. Bail is one of the primary components of which they have inherent authority and constitutional authority. The legislature cannot impede that or get in the middle of that," said DeVore.

The Chicago Tribune reports Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul acknowledged this week at a campaign event that he has concerns about the SAFE-T Act and spoke of the need to hold discussions to clarify some of the provisions, including the one that eliminates cash bail.

"We are often clarifying ambiguity or uncertainty in countless laws," said Raoul. "Is the SAFE-T Act worthy of that discussion? It is."

DeVore said Raoul should have put a halt to the legislation that passed in January 2021 immediately.

"The attorney general should have acknowledged that this law was passed without a lot of debate because it was snuck through the legislature in the wee hours of the morning," said DeVore.

Two Illinois state's attorneys have filed a lawsuit against Gov. J.B. Pritzker and others, alleging that the SAFE-T Act, including the end of cash bail, violates the Illinois constitution.

Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow and Kankakee County State's Attorney Jim Rowe filed the lawsuits in their respective counties. The suits say the legislation violates the state constitution in several ways, including "the right to have the safety of the victim and the victim's family considered in denying or fixing the amount of bail."

"It is my sworn duty as Will County's State's Attorney to protect the people of Will County and the State of Illinois. To put it in plain and simple terms, this is not about politics; it is about public safety," Glasgow said in a statement.