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Clarifying misinformation on the Illinois Safe-T Act

A viral post led people to believe violent suspects will be released pre-trial. Legal experts explain that it is not an automatic decision, it is up to the judge.

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the Safe-T Act in 2021 which addresses a wide variety of criminal justice issues.

This massive crime reform package is in the spotlight again for one of its provisions known as the Pretrial Fairness Act which will end cash bail in 2023.

It's now sparking concern, speculation and assumptions about freeing suspects before trial.

Marie Franklin used to lock people up

"Honey, if I needed $500 to get out of jail today, I would be sitting there because I don't have that kind of money," Franklin said.

Franklin, a former Illinois State Trooper, advocates for criminal justice reform as a community organizer in East St. Louis. 

"Over 250,000 people a year in the state of Illinois are being held pretrial and are being held there because they don't have the money to bond out, and the percentage of those people that are Black and brown are typically around 90%," she said.

Franklin favors the Safe-T Act which includes the Pretrial Fairness Act set to end cash bail for pretrial release in 2023. 

St. Louis University Law School professor Anders Walker breaks it down simply:

"What's true is cash bail is over, now judges decide if you pose a risk of hurting someone or running away they'll keep you behind bars, otherwise you'll be free to go home until your court date," Walker said.

The new law says when a suspect is accused, the court will hold a hearing and may keep them behind bars if they are charged with a forcible felony.

"There are some felonies that don't qualify like drug possession. It's possible those people might go out and commit crime but the idea is that they're probably not likely to," Walker said.

Forcible felonies in Illinois law include crimes like second-degree murder, contrary to misinformation spreading online suggesting the law would instantly release violent suspects before trial. 

"If you are arrested for second-degree murder, you must be taken before a judge and the judge must have a robust hearing to determine whether you are able to be eligible for release or not. It is not automatic," Franklin said.

"Judges have to be very careful about who they release and who they keep. Not everybody should be released, if they're dangerous they should stay behind bars," Walker said.

With similar practices happening in New York, many see ending cash bail as a step toward rooting out systemic racism within the justice system.

"No cash bail means we are living up to our word of you are innocent until proven guilty. The current system says you are innocent as long as you got money to get out of jail," Franklin said.

"For most individuals, it'll be great. They can go home to their families, await their trial date, but there's probably going to be one or two that will do something bad and then we might see the law repealed," Walker said.

One reason the meme circulating online got so much attention was because of the shocking claim that violent criminals charged with second-degree murder might get let out of jail before their trial. 

Not only is that false, but that's a very rare charge in the first place. 

In fact, in Cook County, prosecutors didn't bring one second-degree murder charge all of last year. 

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