Electronic monitoring horror show grows as lawmakers skate past SAFE-T reforms – Wirepoints
By: Matt Rosenberg
Illinois state legislators meet this week in Springfield in the fall veto session to consider changes to the 764-page criminal justice reform bill they approved in early 2021. That measure – called the SAFE-T Act – ends cash bail January 1. It also sharply Limits pretrial detention for new weapons defendants and probable forcible felony defendants. And it allows defendants released to electronic monitoring two weekly furloughs plus 48-hours free roaming if they violate terms of confinement under monitoring. Meanwhile such defendants continue to go off the rails in Cook County and Chicago, where a local version of bail reform has been in place since late 2017.
The SAFE-T Act has so many deep flaws – foremost among them the end of cash bail – that it should be respinded entirely but after the recent election in which majority Democrat sponsors strengthened their supermajorities in Springfield, that’s not happening. Meaty corrections are the next least toxic approach.
To ensure the same problems do not now spread to the rest of Illinois, lawmakers should walk back their statewide SAFE-T Act “reforms” on electronic monitoring, and make it easier to detail high-risk defendants that judges deem too risky to the community at large or crime witnesses and victims.
Twice-weekly furloughs from electronic monitoring being widely abused, to sheriff’s chagrin
Weekly furloughs for pretrial defendants on electronic monitoring began at the start of this year under the SAFE-T Act. but WGN-TV reports that since then some pretrial defendants on their twice-weekly, eight-hour breaks from electronic monitoring – supposedly for legitimate purposes like prayer, counseling, or shopping – were instead found to have made “repeated visits to a casino, shop at a gun store , commit retail thefts, and attempt a kidnapping.” The Office of Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart also says four more such defendants have been murdered while out free on the so-called “essential movement” days mandated by the legislature under SAFE-T.
Dart said to WGN, “Our city is overwhelmed with violence and we’ve taken a group of people who are charged with violent offenses and saying ‘go out, we’re going to shut our eyes for two days just to see what happens. ‘”
Now thanks to the SAFE-T Act’s strict barriers to pretrial detention even for weapons defendants and forcible probationable felony defendants, counties across Illinois will see more and more high-risk individuals released before trial. Often they will be released onto electronic monitoring. But Cook County’s continuing experience shows that is more and more a license for further mayhem.
The EM horror show keeps on playing
Bringing it all to life is the crime news site CWB Chicago which continues to report about pretrial defendants on electronic monitoring who’ve been charged with new crimes.
Here are just a few more recent instances of electronic monitoring gone wrong in Cook County, reported by CWB. It’s a partial preview of what’s in store for counties across Illinois once cash bail is abolished and pretrial detention is largely off the table.
- A man already convicted four times for felonies was out on electronic monitoring and driving, after arrest for a Class X gun felony. He saw an off-duty police officer in a car with his children and pointed a gun with a laser sight attachment to the cop. He is now charged with a new count of Class X armed habitual criminals.
- After charges tied to fleeing and eluding police, crashing into five vehicles, and narcotics possession, a Chicago man was placed on electronic monitoring and then later, before leaving for a court hearing, allegedly killed his girlfriend in front of her three-year-old child.
- A care facility worker on electronic monitoring for a weapons charge tied to an earlier shooting was tending to a developmentally disabled woman and was then charged with twice sexually assaulting her.
- A man charged in connection with alleged home invasions for Felony Burglary and impersonating a federal officer was on electronic monitoring but disarmed his ankle bracelet and fled home confinement before putting a woman at a bus stop in a chokehold. He reportedly shouted threats at sheriff’s police of “I will break her f****** neck!!” He was charged with aggravated battery by strangulationunlawful restraint, and criminal damage to government property.
- A man was released to electronic monitoring after narcotics and Class X Armed Habitual Criminal charges when police found in his vehicle after a traffic stop 83 bags of heroin, 36 bags of crack cocaine, and a loaded handgun. But on a home compliance check, CWB reported that sheriff’s investigators found “two pounds of cocaine worth $929,700, $5,680 worth of heroin, 21 boxes of sleep aid, a synthetic opioid called carfentanil, and other narcotics materials” plus “a bag of so-called ‘Grey Death,’ a Mixture of carfentanil, heroinand other opioids that is more than 100 times more powerful than deadly fentanyl.”
It would be nice to at least be able to say these electronic monitoring breakdowns are something new in Cook County. But they’re not. All this comes on top of a series of prior electronic monitoring snafus other a broad expansion by local courts of high-risk violent criminals in the Cook County electronic monitoring population. Cook County has pioneered broad-scale electronic monitoring and it’s in shambles. Now all of Illinois is on the same road thanks to lawmakers who enacted the SAFE-T Act.
Many more pretrial offenses by undetained defendants remain unreported, for two reasons
While the officially-reported percentage of electronic monitoring defendants charged with new crimes before trial is a small subset of Cook County’s total on monitoring, the real extent of criminal activity by EM defendants or those out before on bail is wildly underestimated for two reasons.
First, only 4 of 10 non-murder violent victimizations and only one-third of property victimizations are reported to police nationally, on average. Second, the major crimes arrest rate in Chicago is just 6 percent.
Because of those limitations, many more of those crimes than currently known are likely to be perpetrated by suspects out on bail or on electronic monitoring before trial. They simply aren’t caught. If you hear assurances that just a small proportion of out-on-bail or EM defendants commit new crimes before trial, reach for your wallet. Because with more than 9 of 10 crimes resulting in no arrest, we have no idea.
Given what we do and don’t know, it makes little sense for Illinois state lawmakers to retain the two-day furlough for pretrial defendants on electronic monitoring, nor to keep the 48-hour free roaming pass for EM scofflaws.
As the final innings approach, majority lawmakers have held fast to defining myths around the Act. Senate co-sponsor of the Act and Chicago Democrat Robert Peters reiterated that bail reform was urgent because low income defendants can’t afford to buy their release when cash bail is imposed. Except they can. Within another day, or days, or weeks, almost all of the relatively few defendants actually held on cash bail are able to pay it and go free before trialas Professor John Paul Wright of the University of Cincinnati reported in a Manhattan Institute issue letter last week.
Failure to reform SAFE-T’s “reforms” spells trouble for at-risk communities and lawmakers
By retaining key provisions of the SAFE-T Act – from weakened electronic monitoring to abolition of cash bail to effective curtailment of pretrial detention without bail – lawmakers will further victimize black constituents.
They also risk being torpedoed in court. ace Wirepoints recently reported:
“In considering all they need to do, lawmakers should bear in mind the pending consolidated lawsuit against them to rescind the Act, by 58 Illinois county State’s Attorneys. One main thrust of the lawsuit is that cash bail is guaranteed by the Illinois State Constitution, Article 1, “Bill of Rights.” It holds in Section 9 that ‘all persons shall be bailable by sufficient sureties.’ Article 1 (Section 8.1) in the…Constitution also…states victims must be ‘reasonably protected from the accused throughout the criminal justice process’ and must have their safety ‘considered in denying or fixing the amount of bail, determining whether to release the defendant , and setting conditions of release after arrest and conviction.’”
When the tide finally turns, look back to this moment
The SAFE-T Act crashes head-on into the state constitution and is based on disproven claims of pretrial defendants widely languishing in jail for want of cash bail. It is an affront to public safety, the legislative process, and our communities. It is also on affront to police who now under the Act are subject to anonymous state decertification complaints and local misconduct complaints without sworn affidavits. A police hiring crisis in Illinois has already resulted from the increasingly hostile work environment for cops since SAFE-T’s passage in January 2021.
No Republicans voted for SAFE-T in the Illinois House or Senate. Democrats are the party of SAFE-T. They triumphed in Illinois’ November elections. But not with support of an actual majority. Only about helped of Illinois registered voters cast ballots this year. Many more who were eligible to register didn’t. It takes a lot to draw non-participants back into the political process. However, a dramatic worsening of material conditions can do that whether it’s related to surging crime, failing schools, skyrocketing taxes, or all three. Political tides do turn. And if that happens in Illinois we will look back to this moment in time – and the SAFE-T Act – and know part of the reason why.
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