Kane County eyeing 6-month reprieve from SAFE-T Act

Kane County State's Attorney Jamie Mosser.

Kane County officials are moving toward a joint stance on delaying the implementation of a key part of a statewide justice reform effort in hopes of restoring the ability of judges to keep more people in jail as they await trial.

Kane County is a pilot site for the SAFE-T Act approved by state lawmakers. The sweeping reforms in the act require body-worn cameras for all law enforcement and the end of cash bail among a slew of changes the county is scrambling to implement. The pretrial fairness portion of the act will go live in January.

That portion of the act drew criticism from state’s attorneys throughout Illinois, including Kane County’s Jamie Mosser.

Kane County has yet to find a sustainable new revenue source to fund the new personnel Mosser said she needs to implement the act, including the opening of new courtrooms and a more intense review of the danger people charged with offenses pose to the public if they are not kept in jail while awaiting trial.

It’s that last aspect that has Mosser concerned.

Severe offenses, such as murder and sexual assault, remain charges that will keep defendants in jail before a trial under the new law. But other crimes, such as kidnapping and disorderly conduct, require proof that the person charged with the offense poses a high likelihood of not showing up for court if released and a threat to a person or the community to be kept in jail.

Mosser believes judges should have more discretion to keep those people in jail without that new burden of proof for state’s attorneys. And now she wants the help of the Kane County Board in lobbying state lawmakers to, at a minimum, delay the implementation of that part of the act for six months.

“We want this fixed by legislation, but if it’s not fixed by legislation, then there is the litigation portion of it,” Mosser told Kane County Board members last week. “We want to do what’s right for our community. Defendants are my community as well. They are the people that I look to protect their rights and get them out of the criminal justice system. But I have to balance that with protecting victims and protecting our community.”

The county’s lobbyists told the board there is a chance state officials will amend the act during the November veto session, or even during the lame-duck session in January. But Mosser said Kane and other counties will need time to react to those changes.

“Let’s say we change this in November and it’s everything we want,” Mosser said. “When do we train people on it? We have to redo our procedures, everything.”

Officials also want state lawmakers to tie some money to the pending reforms.

Kane County’s current budget plan is to spend down its reserves to plug a $17 million budget hole for 2023. About $3 million of that hole is attributable to the SAFE-T Act reforms. That cost will escalate with more personnel in the courts over the next few years.

There was bipartisan support among county board members for a six-month delay. The county board will vote on a supportive resolution Nov. 7.

“We want the elimination of cash bail to be successful,” Mosser said. “If we’re rushing everything and having to change everything we’ve been working on, our likelihood of success is not going to be great.”