PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Local law enforcement is waiting and hoping the Illinois Supreme Court keeps cash bail in place.
More than 60 Illinois sheriffs and state’s attorneys are challenging the SAFE-T Act, which eliminates cash bail for non-violent offenders. They argue getting rid of cash bail puts criminals back on the streets.
“It affects public safety, so it’s a big deal to us. No cash bail will affect who gets detained, who gets held in jail,” said Peoria County Sheriff Chris Watkins.
Watkins said many property crime offenders would likely be released if cash bail is eliminated.
“To me, property crime is extremely important. It affects businesses, it affects how businesses do their services. It affects us as victims. If a car gets stolen that’s a property crime. A lot of those are not going to be held with cash bail,” he said.
State Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria), who supports the elimination of cash bail, said discretion is still left to the judges, not lawmakers.
“This is not just a free pass to get out of jail regardless of what you do, no. There’s accountability there. This really gives the judges an opportunity to determine whether a person is a flight risk, a threat to themselves, or a threat to the community. That’s really what the criteria ought to be, and not how much money you have in your pocket,” he said.
Gov. JB Pritzker (D-Ill.) said there is no reason for the state to pay thousands of dollars to keep nonviolent offenders in jail.
“It’s judges who would make those decisions. I think that’s the right way for us to do it. It’s a more fair system than to have people sitting in jail for weeks, days, months when they just don’t happen to have a few hundred or thousand dollars when they committed a nonviolent crime to be let out,” he said.
Cash bail is often a source of income for sheriffs to cover their costs. In the absence of cash bail, Koehler said legislators must find a way to ensure sheriff departments are properly funded.
“A lot of counties depend upon cash bail to help fund their department. If the state is going to pass a law that changes that, then I think the state has an obligation to fill that gap,” he said.
However, Watkins said cash bail also serves as a deterrent to would-be criminals.
“There have to be repercussions for crime or it’s just going to get out of control,” he said.