Several groups hosted a forum Wednesday in East St. Louis, Ill. to dispel myths about bail reform laws in Illinois set to take effect January 1, 2023.
“I don’t know what to think about the SAFE T Act” said East St. Louis resident Faye Dennis.
She was referring to the Safety, Accountability, and Equity Today Act, which makes several changes in pretrial procedures. One notable provision abolishes cash bail in Illinois. Another sets guidelines for pretrial detention hearings.
“You hear this person over on this hand talking about the murderers, the killers, the rapists and everything get off scot-free,” she said. “And then, we have these people running this forum saying, ‘This is not true.’”
Dennis said another concern brought her to Trinity United Methodist Church in East St. Louis on a cold Wednesday night.
“You think about the time that brown people get that other people don’t get.”
A 2011 study published in Justice Quarterly named Cook County, Ill. as one of five U.S. counties handing Black detainees bail and bond amount that are sometimes thousands of dollars more than what white detainees receive. The report found Blacks then spent more time in jail, on average, than white detainees.
Brotha Dre, East St. Louis Hub Leader for Black Men Build, called for the forum.
“One of the biggest myths is that it was a ‘purge law’ going around in Illinois where people would just be free, without being detained, before trial.”
Dre was referring to the fictional horror movie franchise The Purge. In those films, serious and deadly felonies were temporarily legal. So, he led the community question-and-answer session with J. D. Dixon of the social-justice group Empire 13. Also at the event was Marie Franklin, a former member of the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice. The group helped push the legislation through the Illinois General Assembly. For those worried about public safety in the absence of cash bail, Franklin offered an example.
“Currently, if you were accused of domestic violence, and you beat your spouse, and you had the money, you can get out,” she explained. “If you have bond and you can get out, you can go beat them again.”
Franklin then explained how things will change once the law goes into effect.
“The law is requiring that the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney have to have a robust hearing. Not his 30-second read a report, the judge says ‘Okay, cash bail,’ that’s it. They have to have a hearing.”
Franklin explained what must happen in that hearing.
“The prosecutor has to present a probable-cause case for detention. The opposition gets to give a reason why they shouldn’t keep them [in custody].”
She said in cases which the detainee faces serious felony charges, no one automatically goes free.
“The judge gets to make the decision.”
Some attendees were still worried that the hearings will not keep communities safe from dangerous criminals. However, some were relieved that they were less likely to spend days to months in jail on minor traffic warrants. Dennis found the example of a detention hearing for a domestic-violence suspect enlightening and comforting.
“Regardless of how much money they have, they will be staying [in jail] and they aren’t [forcing on] this person all this heartache and anguish.”
Photos by Kim Hudson