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GOP candidates: SAFE-T Act will only cause new problems

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Jim Stahly Jr./WGLT radio
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Attorney General candidate Tom DeVore discusses the consequences of the end of cash bond during a forum on the SAFE-T Act hosted by the McLean County Republican Party. Other speakers pictured are, left to right: David Paul Blumenshine, a representative of Darren Bailey’s gubernatorial campaign; Desi Anderson, candidate for state Senate District 46, and State Rep. Dan Caulkins of Decatur.

A group of Republican candidates told residents Thursday night the SAFE-T Act, which goes into effect Jan 1, 2023, will cause new problems without solving the ones it claims to address.

The legislation, also called the Pretrial Fairness Act, is best known for ending cash bond for people accused of crimes. Proponents say the current system isn’t fair — that people who cannot afford bond remain incarcerated awaiting trial even on minor charges, while more affluent people can go free even when accused of serious offenses.

But speaking at a forum at Freedom Baptist Church in Bloomington, the Republican candidates asserted the new system would be just as unfair, while releasing many defendants accused of dangerous crimes.

Tom DeVore, Republican candidate for attorney general, acknowledged the current system isn’t perfect. But cash bond provides incentive beyond just a promise that someone will appear in court.

“Is there a better, more equitable more fair method of seeking compliance. than cash? That is the question for us to answer. I do not believe the SAFE-T act even addresses that issue because what the SAFE-T act does is it tries to eliminate the cash component of incentivization without replacing it with anything,” DeVore said.

He added that simply removing money from the equation doesn't do anything to ensure fairness.

“So you merely have either the promise to comply, alone, or you have seeking to detain them without any ability for release. I don’t believe that creates any equity," said DeVore. "I believe that’s just as likely to result in discriminatory action to the extent it exists today, because it doesn’t help. The judge can just as likely say, ‘I’m going to detain you until your trial and not release you with any opportunity for bond.’”

Others candidates at the forum, hosted by the McLean County Republican Party, included: David Paul Blumenshine, a local representative of Darren Bailey’s gubernatorial campaign; Desi Anderson, a candidate for state Senate District 46; Normal Council member Scott Preston, who’s seeking the 91st House District seat; and State Rep. Dan Caulkins of Decatur.

Joanne Knipmeyer, GOP program manager and moderator for the event, said several law enforcement members had planned to attend, but cancelled because of involvement with lawsuits aimed a stopping the act from going into effect. Normal Police Chief Steve Petrilli, for instance, was listed as an event participant.

Speakers told the approximately 50 attendees about concerns they’d heard from constituents, and took written questions from the supportive crowd.

Most of those centered around potential negative impacts of the new system.

DeVore said the new system allowed detention in only seven categories of offenses — and only if prosecutors seek a detention hearing. And even then, the choices are either detention or release, with no gray area in between, he said, adding examples of crimes that did not warrant pre-trial detention include second-degree murder, arson, kidnapping and drug-related offenses.

Panelists painted grim pictures of overburdened prosecutors, law enforcement officials struggling to keep up with criminals run amok, and a massive drain on local prosecutors and law enforcement that would leave them unable to do their jobs.

DeVore suggested 4,000 to 6,000 currently incarcerated might need to be released if the law takes effect.

Advocates of the law note most who are released from custody do not flee. Further, they say people accused of charges that don’t warrant a hearing can be detained, for instance, if a judge determines that they are a flight risk. They also dispute that the law will force a mass release of people accused of serious crimes.

DeVore is a prolific anti-COVID mitigation attorney who challenged school mask mandates and represented Bailey in a lawsuit that freed him from Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home orders.

While DeVore acknowledged the current cash bond system wasn’t perfect, he said solutions should come from the legislature and that the attorney general’s role is to comment on the legality of those reforms.

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Jim Stahly Jr. is a correspondent with WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.
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