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Is a ‘Purge’ law coming to Illinois?

With Illinois set to eliminate cash bail on January 1st, 2023, users on social media have begun likening it to the horror movie series “The Purge.”The “Purge” movies take place in a dystopian future where the American government legalizes any and all criminal activity, including murder, for an annual 24 hour period.On January 1st, 2023, the “SAFE-T” Act (Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity-Today) will commence.Part of the SAFE-T Act eliminates cash bail, meaning criminals who commit misdemeanors or non-violent crimes will be released after they are arrested and booked into jail.The aim of the legislation, introduced by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, would set free certain criminal offenders without having to wait in jail for their court date because they can’t afford bond.Advocates for the abolishment of cash bail view it as a pillar of institutional racism within the criminal justice system.The law would make 12 offenses “non-detainable,” including second-degree murder, arson, drug-induced homicide, robbery, kidnapping, aggravated battery, burglary, intimidation, aggravated driving under the influence, fleeing and eluding, drug offenses, and threatening a public official.

A judge can require someone to be detained for any felony under the SAFE-T Act if prosecutors can prove one of three things; must either have to be judged as a significant threat to safety of the community, a flight risk or have to have violated conditions of release.Legal experts have said the description of the new law as a “purge law” is not accurate.“The Purge is a time where they say this is a free-for-all. All crime is legal for the next 24 hours. That’s the concept of The Purge, right?” New York public defender Olayemi Olurin told NBC Chicago. “That is not the case here in any way, shape or form what this law actually does. This is just redressing bail. That’s all this is, addressing bail. You can’t… you are not being given and invited for any free-for-all for crime.”

While it is true that none of the crimes listed above automatically revoke pretrial release, that does not mean perpetrators are guaranteed to be let out of jail free. A judge may revoke pretrial release from ANY perpetrator who “poses a specific, real and present threat to any person or the community.”Many Illinois law enforcement agencies have warned the act will embolden criminals and make it harder for police to keep offenders off the streets.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley said that approximately 400 inmates currently held in the Winnebago County Jail would be released under the new law, on January 1st.The Kankakee County State’s Attorney filed a lawsuit Friday claiming that the SAFE-T Act is unconstitutional.If the elimination of cash bail does not prove to benefit the state, Illinois may in the future create legislation to amend the pretrial release system. Loyola University, with help from the National Institute of Justice, is studying the SAFE-T Act’s implementation and will analyze the effectiveness of the new pretrial release system over the first year.

One part of the law would create co-responder programs in cities across Illinois, which would be made up of law enforcement, mental health professionals, and social workers.Cash bail will not be eliminated until January 1 and lawmakers are scheduled to return in November. Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and several of the bill’s sponsors have said that there are changes that can be made to the law, but gave no details about what exactly they could change.“Contrary to the false arguments advanced by opponents, the new pretrial system will not simply release every person arrested for a crime,” Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokesperson for Pritzker, wrote in an email.It also includes more investment in mental health services and trauma centers.

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