CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – A group called for pretrial fairness as they protested a proposal to amend the controversial SAFE-T Act Monday. The law has been met with a lot of criticism, and a state senator is trying to do something about it.
State Senator Scott Bennett (D) had a brief conversation with protestors outside his Champaign office. Many came from the Champaign County Bailout Coalition and Party for Socialism and Liberation, who say his proposed changes to the SAFE-T Act could hurt their cause. Particularly, the Champaign County Bailout Coalition is on a mission to end cash bail in Illinois.
“It puts a financial strain on the families that shouldn’t be there,” spokesperson, E, said.
They’re close to reaching that goal. The SAFE-T Act is set to eliminate the cash bail system starting in January.
“It disproportionately affects black and brown people in Champaign County, and we believe that people are innocent until proven guilty,” E said.
But the SAFE-T Act, also known as the Pretrial Fairness Act, is controversial.
Law enforcement agencies are worried too many people would be released before trial. Bennett wanted to address those concerns, so he introduced a bill that tightens up the language of the law, and lays out clear guidelines for when someone will be detained pre-trial. Now – he’s also drawing criticism.
“The scope of what can hold one in pretrial detention is expanding, so there probably will be jail overpopulation of innocent people in pretrial detention,” E said.
It’s an issue Champaign County Board member Emily Rodriguez has brought to Bennett.
“Something that has animated our discussions on the board particularly with our plans for the jail has been the expectation that we will reduce our jail population,” Rodriguez said.
Some of Monday’s protestors support the SAFE-T Act as it’s currently written, while others – like Rodriguez – say it should be tightened, just not the way Bennett is proposing.
“In several different places in the bill, it describes it by offense. In others, it’s the nature of the offense. In other areas, they cross out that a traffic ticket can be included in that,” Rodriguez said.
She said that’s what needs to be clarified. Bennett’s bill would allow judges to deny pretrial release if the suspect poses a threat to others’ safety.
“Overall, this is a huge bill. This is brilliantly written. It’s inspiring to me as a lower level lawmaker. A lot of the work is excellent, it just needs a couple more drafts,” Rodriguez said.
We reached out to Bennett’s office Monday afternoon but he was not available to comment.