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Local law enforcement say justice reform bill does more harm than good

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criminal justice reform

(WSIL)---House Bill 163 includes two major changes to how law enforcement is conducted in Illinois.

First, cash bail would almost entirely be eliminated. And, qualified immunity for law enforcement officers would also be removed.

Local law enforcement in our area say these changes have the potential to harm the public.

Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Bullard remains outspoken about the proposed Criminal Justice reform bill.

He said lawmakers did not consult law enforcement when drafting the proposal, causing the bill to contain policies that could endanger the general public.

"It's important to note that while we support proper reform, there are things that are deal breakers," said Bullard. "Anything that threatens public safety, anything that threatens officer safety in reform, we will oppose."

If the bill passes, two major policies would be in place.

"They're calling it an abolishment of cash bail, but it's not quite that, there are some exceptions, but the other is eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement when they engage in misconduct, so that they could be sued," said SIU School of Law Associate Professor, Jennifer Brobst.

Brobst said cash bail disproportionately affects lower-income communities.

"As a former prosecutor, it was heart breaking to see somebody sitting in jail for months on something that probably wouldn't have gotten them a day in jail if they had been convicted. So it simply, at that level, wrong in how its implemented absolutely impacts low income people, predominately of color," said Brobst.

However, Brobst agrees a new system must be put in place for accountability, rather than eliminate the system altogether.

"But the problem is if you eliminate bond and don't provide a sufficient alternative, will people commit other crimes? Probably," said Brobst.

Sheriff Bullard said if cash bail is eliminated in Illinois, the state would operate much like the juvenile court system, which he describes as broken and flawed.

"It has very little accountability or consequence for juvenile offenders in this state, and to turn the adult model into a broken model like juvenile justice system, is a horrible mistake, and certainly does not protect our community," said Bullard.

Both Brobst and Sheriff Bullard said that the criminal justice system can be improved, but this legislation has the potential to remove law enforcement's ability to protect the public and create more tension.

The Illinois State's Attorneys Association released statement about their opposition to House Bill 163, saying,

The Illinois State’s Attorney’s Association and its members wish to first make clear that it is not opposed to criminal justice reform efforts generally. Rather, we believe that collaborative, bipartisan efforts to make our justice system more equitable, accountable, and even-handed is
worthwhile and should be pursued statutorily. However, we are gravely concerned that House Bill 163, sought to be quickly considered and enacted in a “lame- duck” session and days before a new legislature is sworn in, does not afford all stakeholders and lawmakers the opportunity to deliberate upon these issues and give them the reflection that they deserve.

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Madeline Parker

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