Southern Ill. law enforcement raise concerns as state becomes first to end cash bail

Illinois becomes first state to end cash bail.
Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 6:07 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 18, 2023 at 7:35 PM CDT
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WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Ill. (KFVS) - Today marks the start of a major change for law enforcement in the state of Illinois.

A controversial provision in the state’s criminal justice reform law goes into effect today, and Governor JB Pritzker says this change will right wrongs.

But local authorities say the Pretrial Fairness Act is putting criminals back on the street.

Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Bullard says bail is a tool to make sure defendants show up for a court date. Without it, they’re not sure those people will appear.

“The sheriffs, in large part, are extremely frustrated because we’ve all sworn an oath to serve and protect the members of our community. " Bullard said.

Bullard says ending cash bail in Illinois is the latest attack by lawmakers in Springfield against the justice system.

“What they’ve done is just basically dismantle one of the best systems we had in the nation, that gave the judge discretion--based on the individual defendant--what to do with them based on their income and the seriousness of the crime,” Bullard added.

Under the new law, the majority of crimes will be handled with a simple citation, and some accused of felonies could be released from jail without having to pay bail.

However, judges can still order a defendant to be held if there’s a specific threat to a person or community, persistent criminal activity after being cited, or an obvious medical or mental health issue that poses a risk to their own safety.

“The concern is, that from the time they’re initially arrested--what we used to use is pretrial detention for circumstances that arose where somebody might pose a threat to the safety of the public or the recidivism of criminal activity--and we have lost that discretion largely,” said Williamson County Sheriff Jeff Diederich.

Diederich began releasing inmates on Friday, in order to comply with the new law. As of Monday afternoon, he says a total of 40 inmates have been released since Friday evening.

“No, I’m not happy. This is not why I chose to be sheriff,” Diederich said.

Despite their concerns about the end of cash bail in Illinois, both Sheriff Diederich and Sheriff Bullard say their departments will continue to enforce the law and protect the community.

“We will be everywhere. And we will be present. Williamson County is not a place for anyone that wants to commit criminal activity,” Diederich said.

And Bullard echoes the same message as Diederich.

“Now, more than ever, the way the law is written is that we’re going to have to increase communication, increase our workload to make sure that prosecutors can prove that the people we arrest are going to be a flight risk, they’re going to be a threat to their community,” said Bullard.

As for inmates who are in custody, Bullard says the courts have 60 days to determine whether or not inmates qualify to be released.