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Pre-Trial Fairness Act: No Opinions, Just Facts

I must admit, it makes sense. We are less than sixty days away from the General Election—an election in which it’s still up in the air on which way it will lean. So, I suppose this is the time to prick the hearts and minds with hypotheticals and fabrications. It’s quite unfortunate. Since January 2021 my only desire concerning this legislation is to ensure that you know the facts. I have conducted two town halls that were focused on the SAFE-T Act and you can find them on my website. I have attended any and every event that has asked me to speak on the legislation and had a consistent message at every turn: the facts. I support this bill not because of slogans or because the wind is blowing in a certain direction; I support this legislation because it promotes community empowerment for all people—no matter of race, class, or religion.

I agree with how you feel: I do not want violent criminals on our streets either. I have a two-year-old daughter and I will do anything and everything to protect her, so I get it. But then I’m reminded, violent criminals can get out of jail today, in the here and now, if they can pay their bail. Any person charged of the offenses that you’ve seen on the graphic on social media can be released from jail today, in the here and now, if they can pay their bail. And on the other side of the coin, the person who is charged with shoplifting because they were trying to feed their family will remain in jail because they cannot pay their bail—which causes them to lose their home, their children, their job, their way of life. And when that happens, the chances of becoming a repeat offender become even higher. This happens because though we are considered innocent until proven guilty, our current system says if you got money, go live your life until we can prove your guilt, if you do not have money then you can sit tight in jail for months until we can prove your guilt. That’s current law and those are the concerning facts.

That is why ending cash bail must happen. It creates a much more equitable justice system that determines whether you stay in jail, not based on how much money you have in your bank account, but whether you pose a danger to people or are a flight risk. The bill reads: “Decisions regarding release, conditions of release and detention prior trial should be individualized, and no single factor or standard should be used exclusively to make a condition or detention decision.” Which says the judge must conduct a risk assessment for each case to determine whether they should be released, conditionally released, or held in detention prior to their trial. The ultimate decision rests with the judge, not the size of one’s purse. That is why domestic violence survivor advocates support the Pre-Trial Fairness Act—because the judge would be able to detain the abuser and ensure the safety of survivors.

Now let’s talk about January 1st. It’s been said that roughly 400 people will possibly be released from jail. Please pay attention to the word possibly. Under the Pretrial Fairness Act, though all defendants shall be presumed eligible for pretrial release, it is up to the State to prove by clear and convincing evidence that violent offenders should not be released from jail. States attorneys have the ability to petition to deny pretrial release to any individual they can demonstrate poses a threat to an identifiable person. States attorneys have the power to make sure those who pose a threat are not released pre-trial; the word possibly is entirely up to our States Attorney.

These are the facts. Come January 1 the State can petition the courts to keep violent criminals in jail. It is a great responsibility, but for the sake of justice and fairness, I have faith in our States Attorney.

State Representative Maurice West represents the 67th District in the Rockford region. He is the Chair of the Legislative Ethics Commission.


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