State’s attorneys from Kane, Kendall and DuPage counties are voicing concerns that the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act signed into law last year by Gov. JB Pritzker could result in more violent criminals roaming free.
They talked about their concerns during a forum May 19 at the Eola Community Center in Aurora. The forum was hosted by State Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora.
Their concerns center around the elimination of the state’s cash bail system effective Jan. 1, 2023. They are worried that the way the new law is written, prosecutors will have little say in who can be kept in custody.
Kane County State’s Attorney Jamie Mosser was elected in the fall of 2020, a few months before the SAFE-T Act was passed by the Illinois General Assembly in January 2021.
“I was one of the opponents to it when it came out,” she said. “I am very much in favor of criminal justice reform, but I’m in favor of criminal justice reform as guided by public safety.”
She has been working with other state’s attorneys and state legislators to fix aspects of the SAFE–T Act. Mosser said she is in favor of abolishing cash bail, although she said the legislation needs to be rewritten to prevent violent offenders from being released.
“I believe that if you are a danger to our community, you should be held in jail,” she said. “And just because you have money doesn’t mean you should be able to bond out. But if you are not a danger and you’re being told that you have to post money and you don’t have that, keeping you in jail is not fair either. So there is a way to do this the right way.”
In a letter she wrote to state legislators last year, she criticized the language in the bill as “preventing judges from holding an offender with multiple DUIs, drug dealers and people who illegally possess or shoot guns when we can’t identify a threat to a person or persons.”
Kendall County State’s Attorney Eric Weis and DuPage County State’s Attorney Bob Berlin also voiced their concerns about the SAFE-T Act.
“You can put whatever title you want on a bill,” Weis said. “The SAFE-T Act. Sounds great. Who’s not in favor of safety? Who’s not in favor of pre-trial fairness? How could you not be in favor of that? But when that fairness jeopardizes victims, when that fairness jeopardizes residents of our community and when it jeopardizes law enforcement, that’s when you have to take a step back and look at what are we actually doing.”
Weis said the way the bill is currently drafted, “violent criminals are going to get out.”
“As prosecutors, we have to show a specific threat to hold that person,” he said. “And it seems very odd that if you’re successful in murdering somebody, you can get out, but if I wasn’t successful, if I didn’t shoot well enough and the person didn’t die, I can be held. … We all know that the right thing to do is to correct this so that we can address the concerns that we as prosecutors have to keep our residents safe, our victims safe, but also allow those who don’t need to be in custody to be released on electronic monitoring or home confinement or something that allows them to continue to be productive members of society.”
He hopes state legislators can make changes to the SAFE-T Act sooner rather than later.
“Hopefully they will do so before something bad has to happen for us to then have to react to it and then try to change the law later,” Weis said.
As Berlin noted, a violent crime can affect an entire community.
“Take, for instance, the December shooting at Oakbrook Mall two days before Christmas,” he said. “I hear from so many people in the community that are now afraid to go to that mall. That’s the kind of impact that a shooting has on an entire community.”
Berlin was concerned about more violent criminals being in a community because of the new law.
“And research has shown that many of them reoffend, and that’s really unfortunate,” he said. ‘We’re hoping that we can fix that.”
Holmes said she does like some of the measures in the bill, especially when it comes to mental health and crisis intervention.
“With the police that I’ve talked to, they would be happy to have a mental health professional go on these domestic calls with them when somebody seems to need that sort of assistance,” she said. “But by the same token, you wouldn’t want just a mental health specialist going into these situations without having the backup of the police.”