Bail reform ruling worries leaders in Will County law enforcement

Local activist says bail reform law will ‘make the community safer’

Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow holds a news conference on Wednesday for the announcement of Jordan Henry’s 22-year prison sentence after Henry was convicted of aggravated vehicular hijacking, armed robbery, fleeing and other offenses.

The Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the abolishment of cash bail struck an ominous note for some leaders in Will County law enforcement, but one local Black Lives Matter activist saw it as justice served.

The ruling on Tuesday handed a defeat to Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow and other prosecutors who mounted a legal challenge to the criminal justice reform law known as the SAFE-T Act about 10 months ago.

In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court rejected the “uneven reasoning” of Thomas Cunnington, chief judge of 12th Judicial Circuit Court, who ruled that the abolishment of cash bail was unconstitutional.

Cunnington ignored the plain language of the Illinois constitution, which did not establish the practice of setting a monetary bail for criminal defendants and incorrectly assumed abolishing monetary bail undermines the state’s interests, according to the ruling delivered by Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis.

“[Cunnington] appeared to believe that monetary bail is the only way to assure a defendant’s presence and to protect the public. In doing so, the court elevated the system of monetary bail over the plain language of the bail clause,” the Supreme Court ruling said.

The abolishment of cash bail will take effect Sept. 18.

In a statement on Tuesday, Glasgow said the mission of prosecutors who challenged the SAFE-T Act was not about stopping “principled bail reform” but to protect the “safety of the law-abiding citizens of Illinois from ruthless, violent criminals.”

“Unfortunately, the citizens of Illinois who are the sovereign authority were not consulted in this significant matter,” Glasgow said.

The SAFE-T Act was signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker on Jan. 22, 2021. Glasgow and Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe filed their lawsuits against it on Sept. 16, 2022. Cunnington had ruled cashless bail was unconstitutional just days before it was set to take effect.

“I will continue to fulfill the oath of office to the best of my ability, and I pray to God that prosecutors and law enforcement will continue to be able to properly address violent crime and maintain the safety of our communities given the serious limitations placed on all our agencies by the [SAFE-T Act],” Glasgow said.

Will County Public Defender Michael Renzi and Will County Chief Judge Dan Kennedy did not immediately respond to a message and call about Tuesday’s ruling.

Unfortunately, the citizens of Illinois who are the sovereign authority were not consulted in this significant matter.”

—  James Glasgow, Will County state's attorney

When former Joliet Township Trustee Karl Ferrell, who also is a Black Lives Matter activist, heard news of the Supreme Court ruling, he said, “Justice has been served. This is an equitable law that will make the community safer and lower the recidivism rate. It’s a good thing.”

Contrary to what critics have said about the abolishment of cash bail, Ferrell said he thinks it will keep violent offenders off the street.

He said the current system was allowing defendants charged with first-degree murder, such as former Joliet teacher Michael Kazecki, to win their release from jail by posting money. Kazecki, who still is awaiting trial, managed to post 10% of his $2 million bond in 2018.

“That won’t be able to happen anymore,” Ferrell said.

Joliet Township Trustee Karl Ferrell holds a megaphone while speaking to a group of protestors gathered in downtown Joliet near the Will County Courthouse on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, in support of the SAFE-T Act.

Ferrell joined other protestors last October to support the abolishment of cash bail, which became a flashpoint in the election between Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker and Republican State Sen. Darren Bailey. Dan Proft, a conservative operative for Bailey, was using Glasgow’s words and image in fake newspapers to stir up fear about the SAFE-T Act during last year’s gubernatorial election season.

This is an equitable law that will make the community safer and lower the recidivism rate. It’s a good thing.”

—  Karl Ferrell, former Joliet Township trustee

Defense attorney Jeff Tomczak, who was once the Republican state’s attorney in Will County in the early 2000s, said he believes the new system for pretrial detention will be a learning experience for even the most experienced judges and attorneys.

He said judges will still consider many of the same factors in deciding whether a defendant should be released, such as the nature of the crime, the risk of danger to the public, the risk of flight and their ties to the community.

“I believe this change is going to result in much more litigation and more hearings in pretrial detention, at this point in time,” Tomczak said.

Joliet Police Chief William Evans said based on his extensive 28-year career in law enforcement, he harbors “reservations regarding the expeditious release of offenders and its potential impact on our community.”

“Swift release might compromise accountability, as the primary intent of bail is to ensure offenders appear in court to answer to their charges,” Evans said.

Evans said his officers will nevertheless “steadfastly uphold their commitment to serving the public with unwavering determination, just as they always have.”

Joliet Police Chief William Evans attends Mayor Bob O’Dekirk’s watch party on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.