Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently acknowledged that changes to the language of the controversial SAFE-T Act, which eliminates cash bail and makes changes to policing, might need to be made following public outcry across the state but one crime expert told Fox News Digital that isn’t enough.
“One thing I think is reasonable is there are people who do not understand the SAFE-T Act and are misrepresenting it,” Pritzker, a Democrat, said during a campaign event last week. “So making changes to the language is such, so that people will understand.”
Pritzker added that he is “willing to consider tweaks to the legislation” that has drawn pushback from politicians and law enforcement officials statewide, including from 100 of the 102 states attorneys in Illinois.
“The legislation is about providing tools and technology to police, making sure we are funding them, and making sure we keep the murderers, rapists and domestic abusers in jail,” Pritzker said.
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Illinois Democratic State Sen. Scott Bennett recently proposed a tweak to the bill that will be debated in November. It would expand a judge’s discretion to keep a suspect in custody if the judge believes the individual is a flight risk or danger to others.
“As a former prosecutor, I understand the importance of presuming innocence for individuals before being proven guilty, supporting police and keeping violent criminals out of our neighborhoods,” Bennett said in a statement. “Senate Bill 4228 is an effort to improve consistency in the SAFE-T Act and allow law enforcement officials to continue to effectively perform their duties and protect our communities.”
Zack Smith, a legal fellow and manager of the Supreme Court and Appellate Advocacy Program in the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation, told Fox News Digital that tweaking the language of the bill isn’t so much the problem as the bill itself.
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“I think the problem is that people understand it perfectly fine and what the plain language of the bill says is disastrous,” Smith said. “So this idea that people have somehow misunderstood it, particularly local elected states attorneys who will be charged with implementing the legislation, is rich coming from the governor.”
Smith pointed out the timing of the acknowledgment that tweaks could be made shortly before the looming midterm elections, while also noting that Bennett’s change won’t be considered until November.
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“You have to wonder if this is kind of a cynical ploy to placate voters in the lead up to the midterms that will kind of drop off the radar after those elections take place,” Smith said.
Smith added that the changes necessary to ensure the bill keeps people safe ultimately make a completely new bill more practical.
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The SAFE-T Act has been slammed by critics who say that the bill, signed into law last year and which fully takes effect in January, will abolish cash bail, further handcuff police, and release people currently incarcerated from jail.
“I know the governor disputes this but there are currently incarcerated individuals who are going to be released when this bill takes effect,” Smith said. “So you’re talking about not only the prospective application of this, but also the immediate flood of people that are going to be released back onto the streets statewide when this bill takes effect. And that, I would say, is going to have a very negative impact on public safety in Illinois.”
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Supporters of the bill say it addresses lengthy incarceration for low-income residents that they argue is disproportionately affecting minority communities.
“We’d be ending wealth-based jailing and restoring the presumption of innocence in the courtroom, which is something that is really under fire and it is not valued under our current system,” Kareem Butler, pretrial justice fellow of the Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts, said about the legislation.
Gov. Pritzker’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Fox News Digital.
Illinois State Rep. Patrick Windhorst, a Republican who voted against the measure, told “Fox & Friends First” last month that some initial supporters of the bill have come to regret the vote to end cash bail.
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“I know several people who voted for it have had second thoughts and realized just what exactly this bill is going to do,” Windhorst said. “This was one provision in an over 700-page bill that passed in the waning hours of the last General Assembly, was really pushed through in the last few hours. So a lot of people who voted for it didn’t realize what was in it.”
Windhorst added, “My concern is this is going to have a tremendous impact on public safety and in a negative way, and is going to lead to more crime in our communities, particularly violent crime. We’ve seen some versions of bail reform in Illinois over the last four or five years, and what’s occurred when those went into effect is crime has gone up over that period of time.”
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