The mission of the League of Women Voters is to defend democracy through empowering voters. Voter
education is central to that mission. At the October 2022 meeting of the LWVPR, we discussed the
recent deluge of misinformation circulating this election season about criminal justice reforms in Illinois.
A summary of the issue is provided below, along with a fact-check of some misleading claims raised at
our meeting and a list of online resources for more information and data. Please use these resources to
promote accurate information-sharing about this significant piece of legislation and correct misleading
claims. A well-informed voter is an empowered voter.
Background on this Law:
The comprehensive piece of legislation was adopted in January of 2021 and is known as the Safety,
Accountability, Fairness, and Equity-Today Act, or SAFE-T Act. The portion of the Act that eliminates
cash bail (the Pretrial Fairness Act, or PFA) is scheduled to go into effect in January of 2023. Illinois will be the first state in the nation to completely eliminate money bail.
The call for pretrial reform has been many years in the making, in Illinois and nation-wide. The overall number of pretrial detainees has increased drastically over time, at a rate far higher than the general
imprisonment rate, nearly quadrupling since the 1980s (Prison Policy Initiative). The majority of pretrial detainees are charged with non-violent drug or property crimes (American Bar Association, 2019). In
Illinois, a striking 90% of people held in jail on any given day are being detained pretrial, meaning they have not yet been tried or convicted of a crime (ICJIA). Many pretrial detainees are, in fact, never convicted of a crime (e.g., 40% of felony cases in Cook County were dismissed in 2019, CCSA dashboard).
Overuse of custodial arrest as the response to social problems such as substance abuse has a
disproportionate effect on the poor. Many of those in pretrial detention remain so simply because of
their inability to post bond. A backlog of cases often results in lengthy detention for those without the
means to pay, leading to highly inequitable distribution of justice. The human costs of unnecessary
detention for low-level crimes and low-risk detainees are steep, including job loss, deepening poverty,
child custody crises, and worsening social instability. The financial costs to taxpayers is significant as
well. The cost of one day of jail in Cook County, for example, is $143 / person (ICIJIA). Criminal justice
reforms like the SAFE-T Act and PFA seek to address these longstanding problems.
Where We Stand as a League:
The League of Women Voters, at the national and state level, have established public policy positions
aligned with numerous components of the Pretrial Fairness Act and SAFE-T Act. In the fall of 2020 and
spring of 2021, the LWVPR participated in the process for creating consensus on our state-level criminal
justice position. LWVIL supports increased efforts to reduce bias in the criminal justice system and to
ensure more equal treatment for all citizens under state law. The League Program calls for action to
build trust and transparency between police and community members and encourage law enforcement
to use alternatives to custodial arrest when possible. LWVIL supports the elimination of cash bond,
encourages the use of pretrial procedures that utilize unbiased risk assessment, and advocates for
increased funding for prevention and treatment programs that can ease the burden on our criminal
LWVIL 2021 – 2023 Program, Where We Stand: https://tinyurl.com/5yf6szf8
LWVIL video briefing on the Pretrial Fairness Act: https://youtu.be/3VJi_PCSGRw
FACT CHECK: SEPARATING FACTS FROM FICTION
Claim: Criminals cannot be detained upon arrest starting in January.
Fact: Incorrect. Those arrested on felony charges and Class A misdemeanors can still be detained and
held. The decision is made by a judge based on danger and flight risk. The Pretrial Fairness Act (PFA)
establishes new processes for pretrial release and detention decisions. Defendants will no longer have
the option to obtain release by paying a cash bond. Instead, a judge will make the determination to
detain or release defendants pending trial. No one will be able to obtain release through payment.
Claim: The new law makes serious crimes like burglary, arson, kidnapping, and attempted murder “non-
Fact: False. The Act allows for pretrial detention under a very wide range of circumstances, including
crimes listed in misleading memes being circulated online. 725 ILCS 5/110-6.1(a)(1) specifically
identifies “any nonprobationable forcible felony” as eligible for pretrial detention, which includes (as
specified in 730 ILCS 5/5-5-3), residential burglary and arson, criminal sexual abuse, kidnapping of a
child, etc. Additionally, the law allows for judges to weigh many factors in the pretrial detention
decision, including whether the offense involved violence, a weapon, sexual assault, a victim from a
protected vulnerable class, etc. (including “any factors deemed by the court to have a reasonable
bearing on the defendant’s propensity or reputation for violence, abuse, or assaultive behavior.”)
Claim: Bail reform was “snuck into law” in the middle of the night.
Facts: This legislation is the result of many years of work, with numerous stakeholders and
organizations. The Illinois General Assembly posts the entire legislative history of each bill online. The
details of HB3421 and HB3653 can be reviewed here: https://tinyurl.com/mrxyjdv5 and
https://tinyurl.com/jb8p99es. The first version of the Pretrial Fairness Act (HB3421) was introduced in
That fall, five years ago, the Illinois Supreme Court created the Commission on Pretrial Practices to study
and provide comprehensive guidance on pretrial reforms. The task force was comprised of dozens of
members of the judiciary, prosecutors, and law enforcement. An excerpt from the Commission’s report
is provided below, and you can access the entire report at the following link:
“Following two years of studying best practices in use around the country, consulting pretrial
reform experts, listening to stakeholders throughout the state, and analyzing the myriad sources
of academic and professional analysis of pretrial issues, the Commission has completed its work.
The following recommendations to modify state laws, Supreme Court rules and policies, and the
practices and procedures and systems used in circuit courts throughout Illinois are designed to
1) ensure a fair, efficient, transparent, accountable and adequately-resourced system of pretrial
services; 2) use legal evidence-based practices; and 3) develop an operational structure that is
guided by the National Institute of Corrections’ A Framework for Pretrial Justice: Essential
Elements of a High Functioning Pretrial System and Agency.”
Subsequent versions of the legislation were considered throughout 2018 and 2019, and expert
testimony was heard during legislative hearings in April of 2019. Additional hearings on ending cash
bond and pretrial reforms were held in February and October of 2020. The Act passed both houses, after
much revision and debate, in January of 2021 and was signed by the Governor on February 22, 2021.
The full bill, with mark-ups, can be viewed here:
Claim: 100 out of 102 State’s Attorneys oppose the Act.
Facts: This claim is being widely shared, with no accompanying supportive evidence (e.g., “those
involved say...”). It is true that several SAs have expressed strong opposition, going so far as to bring
lawsuits, including Will County State’s Attorney, James Glaslow. That said, many State’s Attorneys have
asked for clarifications and amendments, not repeal. For example, DuPage County State’s Attorney, Bob
Berlin, stated: “Many of us [State’s Attorneys] are not just saying, ‘repeal the whole thing, just get rid of
Claim: The legislation is anti-police.
Facts: The SAFE-T Act is comprehensive in scope and was created with input from law enforcement
agencies throughout the state. To support the reforms, the Fiscal Year budget for 2023 includes $10
million for a local law enforcement retention program. The reforms in the SAFE-T Act support ethical
police conduct. Law enforcement input has led to several amendments since the bill was first
introduced. The Act includes improvements to police training, a police certification system,
requirements for body-worn cameras, confidential mental health services for officers, and
whistleblower protections. Various law enforcement groups and police unions have opposed the
legislation, calling it an “anti-police” bill and taking objection to revised use-of-force standards, body
camera requirements, and other components. These sentiments are not universal, however, as
illustrated in this quote from the former president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police:
“Let me make it clear to you that the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police is not against
the SAFE-T Act (because) we have put countless hours in collaborating with elected officials,” Hazel Crest Police Chief Mitchell Davis said at a news conference earlier this year. Davis was the president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police during the bill’s passage. (source: https://www.capitolnewsillinois.com/NEWS/whats-in-the-safe-t-act-a-look-at-the-2021-criminal-justice-reform-and-how-it-has-evolved )
Claim: The police will not be able remove people who trespass on your property.
Facts: This claim stems from the fact that trespassing is sometimes a lower-level misdemeanor crime
(e.g., squatting on land, Class B or C). The Act calls for alternatives to custodial arrest for low-level crimes (petty offenses and Class B or C misdemeanors). That said, most trespassing offenses are actually higher-level offenses, either Class A misdemeanors or felonies (see 720 ILCS 5/Articles 19-4 and 21), including residential trespass if persons are present, criminal trespass to vehicles, safe school zones,
airports, state supported lands, and place of public amusement. This is one of the points of confusion
that has led some State’s Attorneys to ask for more specificity / clarify in certain provisions in the Act
prior to its full implementation in January. That said, the Act, as written, allows for detention of anyone
“deemed to pose a treat to any person(s) or the community, or if they have any obvious medical or
mental health issues that post a risk to their own safety.” Furthermore, oversight boards were created
as part of the Act to monitor and address any aspects of the law that need further refinement.
Claim: This law is already increasing crime in Chicago. People out on pretrial release will commit further
crimes with no accountability.
Facts: The data available from Illinois as well as other states which have initiated initial bail reforms do
not support this claim. Some individuals on pretrial release have reoffended, but the rate is not
disproportionately high. The Civic Federation reference provided below, for example, reports that 3.3% of the 70,000 people out on pretrial release were charged with a new violent crime or crime against a
person (e.g., assault). 81.8% were not charged with any new offenses during pretrial release.
RESOURCES AND WEBSITES FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
The website of the League of Women Voters of Glenview-Glencoe provides a succinct summary of the
Pretrial Fairness Act and helpful links to background information, including several video links and
See below for direct links to data and additional details from government agencies, non-profit
organizations, and legal and professional organizations.
American Bar Association: Examines the inequitable outcomes associated with cash bond:
Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts: Report on outcomes of electronic monitoring programs in
Cook County State’s Attorney: Data dashboard:
Circuit Court of Cook County: Since the initial bail reforms enacted in September of 2017, the Circuit
Court has monitored implementation and outcomes (including court appearance rate, risk for new
criminal activity, etc.). Quarterly data dashboards are available here:
IllinoisCourts.Gov: The Illinois Supreme Court established an Office of Statewide Pretrial Services to
assist all counties in implementation. The Pretrial Implementation Task Force and subcommittees (made
up of judges, sheriffs, police chiefs, victim rights advocates, among other experts) is working actively to
prepare all justice system partners for these changes. You can read on those preparations here:
Loyola University / MacArthur Foundation: Report on impact of pretrial reforms:
Data on Illinois pretrial detention practices (average length of detention etc.):
University of Chicago Urban Labs: Data on electronic monitoring:
Civic Federation (independent, non-partisan government research organization):
Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA): The ICJIA is tasked with implementing several of
the Act’s provisions. This website provides a useful overview of the Act’s provisions and information on
their roles and responsibilities in its implementation: https://icjia.illinois.gov/researchhub/articles/the-2021-safe-t-act-icjia-roles-and-responsibilities
ICJIA article on the reasons for reform efforts: https://icjia.illinois.gov/researchhub/articles/an-examination-of-illinois-and-national-pretrial-practices-detention-and-reform-efforts
Prison Policy Initiative: Data on the costs of pretrial detention:
Illinois Justice Project: Statement in support of the legislation: https://www.iljp.org/statement
Campaign for Pretrial Justice: Comprehensive website to advocate for pretrial reforms. Includes links
to contact legislators. https://pretrialfairness.org/
* This document is provided to members as an educational resource and is not an official position
statement of the LWVPR. See the LWVIL 2021-2023 Program for the League’s official position statements related to these issues.