What Is The SAFE-T Act?
The SAFE-T (Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity-Today) Act is an Illinois criminal justice reform bill that took effect in 2023. This omnibus law eliminates cash bail and makes other significant changes to the state's justice system, establishing statewide use of force standards for law enforcement agencies. Read on and learn all you need to about its status, important facts, and implications.
How Does The Current Safety Act 101-0652 Work?
Illinois is the first state to end cash bail, replacing it with a system that uses a risk assessment tool to determine whether a defendant is eligible for pre-trial release and under what conditions. The tool considers factors such as the suspect's criminal history, the severity of the current charge, and the likelihood that the defendant will return to court for trial.
To deny pre-trial release, the prosecutor has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant poses a real and present threat to a specific, identifiable person. The state should also prove that no conditions on release can mitigate that threat or the defendant's willful flight.
The SAFE-T Act aims to be fairer and reduce the number of people held in jail just because they cannot afford monetary bail. The new law also introduces significant changes to police training, elaborates on the use of force standards, and requires body-worn cameras on all officers by 2025.
This criminal justice bill also expounds on the rights of detainees and prisoners, enhances police accountability, and brings guidance on pre-trial and correctional proceedings.
SAFE-T Act Amendments from December 2022 Veto Session
In December 2022, Illinois lawmakers approved more than 300 pages of amendments to the SAFE-T Act, aiming to standardize language throughout the act to apply set principles consistently. Critics of the law still argue that the risk assessment tool may be biased and could lead to some defendants being held unnecessarily or released when they pose a risk to public safety.
Nevertheless, key amendments were as follows:
- Clarification that more crimes can result in a person being held in jail while they await trial
- Further, specifies when a judge can determine if a defendant is a danger to others and should be detained.
- Courts also get a clear picture of what to do to conduct hearings when a defendant is in jail, on bond, or free in the community.
- A definition of the charges someone faces. To protect public safety, a court could deny a defendant pre-trial release if it finds the suspect would engage a person or the community.
Previous Amendments to the SAFE-T Act
Illinois has made several changes to its criminal justice reform laws through two trailer bills. The first draft extended the effective dates of numerous provisions, clarified definitions, and called for police to wear body cameras, train in crowd control tactics, understand misconduct, when to use deadly force, and imposed a duty to intervene.
The second trailer bill brought about additional modifications to policing regulation, encompassing police officer certification and de-certification process, guaranteeing individuals in custody are informed of their rights, and requiring proper labeling of camera footage. Additionally, it altered the Pretrial Services Act to empower the Illinois Supreme Court to establish a framework for counties that lack pretrial programs.
Illinois Enhances Oversight and Accountability of Law Enforcement Agencies through SAFE-T Act
Besides bail reform, this criminal justice law brings about significant changes aimed at improving policing in Illinois and holding officers accountable for their actions. This law includes several provisions and measures that:
- Grant additional power to the Illinois Attorney General for investigating law enforcement violations.
- Enhances whistleblower protections, allowing anonymous complaints against police officers, and eliminates the need for accusers to sign a sworn affidavit.
- Require the retention of records related to officer misconduct and mandating increased reporting of crime statistics and use-of-force data by police departments.
- Place stricter limitations on the use of force by police officers, prohibiting chokeholds and clarifying the rules for the use of lethal force and execution of warrants.
- Require all agencies to equip officers with body cameras by 2025.
Reforms to Increase Police Transparency and Accountability
The Illinois SAFE-T Act is a comprehensive piece of legislation that aims to increase police transparency and accountability in several ways. Its measures include:
- Mandating the reporting of deaths that occur while in police custody.
- Compel police to provide a reason for arresting someone.
- Expanding police training on the use of force, crisis intervention, and first aid.
- Necessitating mental health screenings and confidential counseling for officers.
- Obligates police departments to participate in the FBI's use of force database
- Imposing law enforcement agents a duty to intervene in another officer's excessive use of force and render aid when necessary.
- Forbidding certain military equipment and guiding crowd control measures.
- Requiring the expansion and maintenance of police misconduct records and calls for the use of special prosecutors in officer-involved deaths.
- Removing police discipline from the collective bargaining process.
- Extending all conditions on the use of force that apply to officers and bounty hunters.
Restrictions on the Use of Force
The Illinois SAFE-T Act has implemented notable changes to officers' use of force standards. Under the new guidelines, deadly force is permitted only if necessary to defend oneself from bodily harm or if a suspect attempts to escape, yet they pose a threat to others and cannot be apprehended later.
Chokeholds and actions restricting breathing above the chest are prohibited except in situations where lethal force is authorized. The Act also mandates that officers intervene when another agent uses excessive force and provide medical assistance to injured parties.
Furthermore, the SAFE-T Act limits officers' ability to detain individuals committing Class B or C misdemeanors like partaking in certain drug offenses and non-probation able felonies. Officers can only issue a citation in these cases, which some believe to be problematic.
SAFE-T Act: A New Era for Justice in Correctional Institutions
Some of the most critical reforms in correctional institutions addressed by the SAFE-T act include:
- The Felony-Murder Law has undergone significant changes. A person can only be charged with murder if they or an accomplice causes a death.
- A defendant can present their case, have counsel, and make three free phone calls from each location they are held within three hours.
- In an effort to create a more equitable system, mandatory minimum sentences and supervised release terms have been reduced.
- The practice of “prison gerrymandering”, which unfairly distorted the legislative redistricting process, has been eliminated. Inmates are now tagged as living in their previous known residence instead of the place of incarceration.
- Individuals under electronic monitoring and home pre-trial detention can leave for approved errands, mandates some open movement, and requires a 48-hour violation period before charges can be brought.
- Revisions in mandatory supervised release terms for certain offenses. Class 1 or 2 felonies (except for criminal sexual assault) reduced to 12 months. No mandatory supervised release for Class 3 or 4 felony offenses unless assessed as necessary.
- The crime victims’ compensation act broadens the definition of victims, increases pecuniary loss limits, allows and removes certain requirements for seamless cash compensation of crime victims, and adds factors for cooperation determination.
SAFE-T Act, Setting Pre-trial Detention Standards without A Cash Bail System
Cash bail is abolished under the SAFE-T Act pre-trial detention section (the Pre-trial Fairness Act). Prosecutors have difficulty detaining defendants who pose a threat to public safety under the law, because it imposes multiple standards for pre-trial detention.
On the other hand, denied pre-trial release can have negative effects, such as increasing the likelihood of a criminal re-offending. During pre-trial court processes, the potential threat to public safety must be weighed against these additional harms.
The pretrial fairness act also prevents risk assessment results from being the sole basis for a pretrial detention decision and informs the accused person of the tool.
The SAFE-T Act mandates a board in the Illinois court system to oversee pretrial data collection (analyze and identify resources for information) and publish quarter reports on various pretrial practices.
SAFE-T Act: Pretrial Highlights Determining Detention
Under current law, bail can be granted to everyone except those accused of capital offenses, felonies that may result in life imprisonment, and cases in which the defendant poses an immediate danger to public safety and if criminal activity persists.
If bail is possible, the court considers several factors in determining its amount, such as:
- The severity and circumstances of the offense
- The defendant's motivation for committing the crime
- Whether the suspect has ties to a gang and their financial resources.
Bail amount should be enough to ensure the defendant's appearance in court. Those detained because they are considered flight risks get a pretrial hearing within 60 days of the motion. Police can arrest someone for trespassing violations if they pose an obvious threat to the community or if the accused has a mental health issue making them a safety threat.
The SAFE-T Act, passed in Illinois in 2021, eliminates cash bail and corresponding pretrial detention provisions. It aims to reform police training and use-of-force standards, expand detainee rights, and require body cameras in all departments by 2025. It has been amended twice and is now law.
Supporters of this progressive criminal justice system see it as a step toward greater equity for minority communities, despite Republican objections.
How's The Safe-T Act Going To Change In The Future?
The destiny of the SAFE-T Act, which advocates for criminal justice reforms, will be influenced by political, legal, and social developments. It could be amended, expanded, or repealed based on the priorities of those in power. The law may also face legal challenges—similar to how a Cook County judge ruled it unconstitutional, impacting its implementation and enforcement.
What Does No Cash Bail Mean In Illinois SAFE-T Act?
The bail and pretrial detention system disproportionately affects low-income defendants while favoring wealthier offenders. A transparent risk assessment system by the SAFE-T Act addresses the issue while protecting defendants' rights and ensuring public safety. However, proponents still claim provisions for eliminating cash bail have complex standards for prosecutors.
Why Is Illinois Eliminating Cash Bail?
The decision to set aside cash bail was based on concerns about the unfairness of the former system, which disproportionately affected low-income defendants and people of color.
Previously, suspects who could not afford bail had to remain in jail until their trial, leading to serious consequences for their employment, housing, and family relationships. Research has shown that cash bail doesn't necessarily reduce public safety risk or the likelihood that defendants will skip their court appearances.
Send us an SOS