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McLean County state’s attorney outlines frustrations with end of cash bail at GOP campaign event

Woman speaking at microphone placed on a podium with the palms of her hands laid out in front of her
Eric Stock
/
WGLT
McLean County State's Attorney Erika Reynolds speaks at an event this week in Bloomington.

McLean County's top prosecutor outlined what she described as a list of frustrations about the end of cash bail during a campaign event this week that featured law enforcement and Republican candidates for county and state offices.

State's Attorney Erika Reynolds said the Pretrial Fairness Act (PFA), which took effect last September as part of a sweeping criminal justice reform law, takes away too much discretion from prosecutors and judges to decide which defendants should remain in custody while awaiting trial.

“When you’re taking away the ability of the people in the room to make these decisions and giving a blanket approach, it’s frustrating and it’s ill-advised,” Reynolds said.

The list of detainable offenses in the PFA includes forcible felonies such as murder, criminal sexual assault and residential burglary, as well as other felonies including stalking, domestic battery, reckless homicide and most sex offenses.

Reynolds detailed her concerns with the Pretrial Fairness Act (PFA) in a meeting organized by Republican Illinois House candidate Desi Anderson at a Bloomington restaurant.

Reynolds was appointed state’s attorney in 2022. She is running unopposed in the November election for a four-year term.

Reynolds said frequent hearings to prove a defendant should remain jailed while awaiting trial re-traumatizes victims who may be asked to testify.

“Victims in those cases don’t necessarily want to be notified every single time there’s some random status hearing,” Reynolds said. “They don’t want to have to come to court every time. This is something that’s extremely traumatic and they want to put it in the past.”

Reynolds cited another concern — that the state did not account for additional costs and the increased workload for prosecutors but offered grants to county public defender’s offices. The McLean County Board approved funding for the state’s attorney’s office to hire an additional prosecutor and two additional support staff.

Reynolds said she’s also frustrated state lawmakers seem unwilling to address more reforms to the Pretrial Fairness Act.

“There is no interest in addressing these issues in Springfield. They haven’t attempted to get anybody in a room and they are not ... They don’t care basically,” she said.

Lawmakers approved several revisions to the SAFE-T Act, the overriding criminal justice reform bill, after the initial rollout. That included expanding the list of offenses in which a judge can deny pretrial release.

Reynolds said her office has appealed two cases where defendants accused of sex crimes against children were released pending trial.

“An individual who commits a child sex offense, that’s a crime of opportunity. It’s just a matter of time before they do it again,” she said.

The Pre-Trail Fairness Act has been in effect for nearly seven months. Reynolds said it will take at least a year to determine the law's impact on public safety.

Supporters of the law which the Illinois legislature passed in 2021 say a defendant’s ability to pay should not be a barrier to freedom after they have been charged but not convicted.

Police chiefs in Bloomington-Normal, who did not attend the meeting, have said the law has required police to prepare reports for the state’s attorney’s office in a more timely manner and has led to additional personnel costs for overtime, but that it’s too soon to tell what the full impact of the law will be.

McLean County Sheriff Matt Lane has noted the county jail population has dropped about 10% to 15% since the new law took effect, and he has raised concern that some defendants accused of violent behavior will pose a safety threat if they are not detained while awaiting trial.

McLean County Public Defender Ron Lewis has said the new law has led to more and sometimes longer hearings some days, but added pretrial release enables defendants to continue to work and avoid potential eviction or problems with dependent care.

Safe streets coalition

Anderson convened the meeting as part of her Safe Streets Coalition.

Woman speaking into a microphone placed on a podium with three paintings on the wall behind them
Eric Stock
/
WGLT
Desi Anderson

Anderson, a small business owner who ran for the Illinois Senate in 2022 and lost to Democrat Dave Koehler, said she plans to advocate for additional reforms to the SAFE-T Act, but said her larger concern is how laws like this are part of what she sees as an anti-police culture.

“We’ve got to change society and the culture around it and not make our men and women in blue… and demonize them and that’s what we have done,” Anderson said following the meeting.

Anderson is running against Democratic incumbent Sharon Chung of Bloomington in the general election for the 91st Illinois House.

Sally Owens of Peoria Heights is running to unseat Koehler, who is the assistant majority leader in the Illinois Senate. That district also includes parts of Bloomington-Normal.

Owens said the Pre-Trial Fairness Act was one of the main concerns that motivated her to run for state office.

“We’re asking our voters and our constituents and our citizens of Illinois to bear the burden of the added expense at the cost of unsafe environments,” Owens said.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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