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March 29, 2021
By: Eric G. Patt

In the late hours of a recent “lame duck” session of the Illinois General Assembly, the legislature passed a broad criminal justice reform bill. Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the bill into law. It will be known as the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity – Today (SAFE-T) Act.

This law impacts many aspects of the criminal justice system in Illinois, including policing, pre-trial court procedures, and sentencing policies. Some provisions were controversial, as many law enforcement agencies and associations expressed concern that the law was rushed through, with unintended consequences not considered. Supporters advocated for immediate action to address the long-standing inequities in policing, sentencing, and incarceration policies as they relate to minority and low-income communities.

Here is a brief summary of some key provisions of the 764-page law.

Policing Reforms

All law enforcement officers will be required to use body-worn cameras, to be phased in between January 1, 2022 and January 1, 2025. Strangely, police officers are now prohibited from reviewing what is on the body-worn camera video prior to completing their reports.

Any citizen may now file a complaint against a police officer without a sworn affidavit or other legal documentation. Any person may also file an anonymous complaint. The Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board must conduct a preliminary review of every complaint to determine if further investigation is warranted.

Crisis intervention training for probationary police officers is now required. This includes training on use of force, de-escalation and safety techniques, as well as how to respond to people with mental illness. Implicit bias and ethnic and racial sensitivity training is required every three years.

When making an arrest, police officers may not use force unless the officer believes that, in the totality of the circumstances, force is necessary to defend himself or another from bodily harm; or the officer reasonably believes the person cannot be apprehended at a later date and is likely to cause great bodily harm to another, and the person just committed or attempted a forcible felony involving bodily harm or is attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon. Using restraint above the shoulders with risk of asphyxiation (such as chokeholds) is prohibited unless deadly force is justified.

Limitations are now placed on the use of projectiles like rubber bullets and chemical irritants like pepper spray.

One police officer will now be required to intervene to prevent another police officer from using unauthorized force.

Pre-trial Court Procedures

Beginning in 2023, monetary bail is abolished. Every defendant will now be released on his/her personal promise to show up to court, although the courts can still place certain conditions on a defendant’s pre-trial release. Everyone will be released before trial, except for those people charged with certain felony offenses, or if there is a high likelihood of willful flight.

Prison and Sentencing Reforms

Judges are now given greater discretion when dealing with offences that carry mandatory minimum jail sentences. If the offense involves the use or possession of drugs, retail theft, or driving on a revoked license due to unpaid financial obligations, the judge can instead sentence the offender to probation, conditional discharge, or a lesser term of imprisonment.

Prisoners will be permitted to participate in programs to earn credits to reduce their sentences. Corrections employees are required to have training on the medical and mental health care issues applicable to pregnant prisoners.

Prisoners on electronic monitoring and home detention will now be provided with open movement spread out over no fewer than two days per week. Approved absences from home confinement are expanded to include trips to purchase groceries and other necessities. No one will be guilty of a violation of a condition of home detention or electronic monitoring, unless that person is in violation for at least 48 hours.