CHICAGO – Illinois paved the way for a major overhaul of its criminal justice system after Governor JB Pritzker passed new law that not only introduces major police reforms, but also makes the state the first in the nation to completely abolish bail.
House bill 3653The project, which has existed for several years, aims to fundamentally change the state’s existing policy in relation to policing and justice.
The legislation, which was signed on Monday, comes at a critical time as nationwide calls to tackle racial prejudice in the judicial system have increased following the assassination of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis in May, Pritzker said after the law was signed.
“This legislation is an essential step in reducing the systemic racism that plagues our communities, our state and our nation, and brings us closer to real security, fairness and justice,” he said. “All of this was fueled by the experiences of those who lived with police brutality and discrimination during this terrible year amid a brutal virus pandemic that disproportionately injured blacks and browns.”
The expansive bill came about through a massive mobilization of more than 100 grassroots reform organizations as well as the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, which passed the bill through state legislature last month.
“History will judge how we responded at that moment, which required great, bold, and transformative changes,” said Democratic State Senator Elgie R. Sims Jr., who sponsored the bill. “This is not a moment of incrementalism, but a moment when we need to think about what public safety is like in this great state.”
One of the most notable facets of the law is that Abolition of the cash bail system under the Illinois Pretrial Fairness Act, which is part of HB 3653. The new law removes property-based incarceration and instead gives judges a more rigorous decision-making process based on a real risk of present threat or willful escape. This is slowly being rolled out as part of a two-year plan and will not come into full effect until 2023, while other parts of the law will come into effect as early as July.
The new system “increases law enforcement accountability and transparency, modernizes our bail and conviction systems, and provides better protection and more humane treatment for those arrested and charged with crime,” said Sims.
The law also covers some of most extensive police reformsThese include a requirement that all police officers wear body cameras by 2025, a ban on all law enforcement agencies, new guidelines for “decertifying” police officers, and nationwide standards and services for civil servants to receive regular confidential examinations and mental health assistance.
HB 3653 also prohibits police authorities from buying certain military equipment such as firearms and ammunition of .50 caliber or higher and armored vehicles.
Detainees’ rights have also been expanded to include three free phone calls within three hours of arriving at the police station and prior to the interview, as well as accessing the phone numbers on their cellphone’s contact list before inserting their inventory.
However, several law enforcement agencies and lawmakers opposed the legislation, arguing that the new law will not only do civil servants a disservice, but also harm public safety.
“The bill unfairly targets officials and seeks to punish them, not just hold them accountable,” said Ed Wojcicki, executive director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, in one Explanation. “The public will learn more about these shortcomings when they see for themselves that the law removes the reasonable tools required by the police, prosecutors and the courts.”
The sentiment was vindicated by several Republican lawmakers, who said the bill was hastily rushed through a lame duck session.
“This 700-page proposal was rammed through in the middle of the night with only a few hours left in a lame duck meeting, without the transparency and discourse expected in a democratic process,” Senator John Curran said in a statement the Chicago Tribune.
Illinois Republican Party leader Don Tracy said the bill “deliberately undermines public safety – endangering citizens, encouraging criminals and making Illinois less safe for families.” WMAQ-NBC Chicago reported.
Despite the opposition, several community groups who worked on the bill say the bill culminated over several years and was a long time coming for the state’s color communities.
“The collective bill was developed in response to protests against Black Lives Matter that erupted in every corner of Illinois and across the country last summer following the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,” the coalition to end Money Bond that strong the bill was involved for several years, said in one Explanation.
“The legislators saw the unprecedented protests as a mandate to fundamentally change the state’s criminal justice system. In signing this transformative piece of legislation, Governor Pritzker and the Illinois legislature took a bold step to advance racial justice in Illinois and to work with the millions of people who have taken to the streets to support the Black Lives Matter movement. “