by Bernard Okitipi, CARPLS Supervising Attorney
On Jan. 22, 2021, Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law the Illinois Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today (SAFE-T) Act, implements sweeping reform for the criminal justice system, including pre-arrest diversion, policing, pretrial, sentencing, and corrections.
The SAFE-T act is one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching criminal law reform in Illinois history encompassing police, courts and prison reforms. It was passed specifically to address racial injustice, which is at the heart of our criminal system.
The well-known portion of the SAFE-T act (and most controversial) is the Pretrial Fairness Act (commonly referred to as the No Money Bail), which went into effect this year. “This historic legislation restores the presumption of innocence and makes Illinois safer by ending money bond and the unconstitutional practice of caging people pretrial simply because they cannot afford to buy their freedom” (pretrialfairness.org).
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people go through the Illinois jail and prison system. Most of them are incarcerated simply because they cannot afford bail. These reforms seek to right the wrongs of the system of mass incarceration.
The bail reform act is significant because money or wealth should not play a role in whether someone should be in jail while waiting for trial. Unfortunately, the Pretrial Fairness Act has been appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court and is awaiting a final ruling. Hopefully, this important law will be upheld. After all, our justice system mantra is that a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty.