Crime bill was carefully drafted to meet needs

  • Sen. Elgie Sims

    Sen. Elgie Sims

 
By Elgie Sims
Guest columnist
Updated 2/4/2021 1:16 PM

Last year, the lines of racial injustice and equality became more complicated.

The nation was shown inequality, racial disparity and polarization still exists. It proved to us how much work still truly needs to be done. It allowed us to have conversations and take steps toward ending systemic racism -- finally bringing forth a feeling of real change and hope.

 

This past legislative session was a step in the right direction for the state with the passage of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus' criminal justice reform effort: A major step, but one I hope is merely the first of many to come.

As with any major reform, there have been misconceptions and misinformation by this measure's opponents, which I'm dedicating myself to dispelling as we continue work on this crucial issue in Springfield.

Accusations that this measure was rushed ignore the hours of public testimony that, since September, have informed the final legislation, including input from law enforcement and every other type of professional at all levels of the criminal justice system.

And we must not forget that the concepts are not new to us.

We have years of studies calling for an end to cash bail. We have years of studies showing that revoking a driver's license for nonpayment of fines is unsurprisingly not a great way to ensure somebody has the ability to ever pay those fines. The citizens who interact with police have petitioned their government repeatedly for more accountability.

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Many of these arguments sound very familiar at this point.

Other claims that this somehow makes Illinoisans less safe are similarly overblown and ill-considered.

When cash bail is removed from the equation, the only thing we do is remove the power of the wealthy to buy their way out of consequences. A judge has the power to set the conditions of safe release: Conditions like counseling, anger management, or electronic home monitoring.

To make one of those conditions a $10,000 bail is merely to declare that the guilty defendant with a trust fund has a greater right to be released than the innocent defendant with empty pockets.

Finally, I would like to call attention to the cooperation the Black Caucus has shown with law enforcement, whose protests have sounded the loudest. Law enforcement officers' collective bargaining rights and the qualified immunity they enjoy are unaltered by the measures passed this week. Changes to the process of issuing complaints of police misconduct were reviewed carefully with input from the Illinois attorney general and law enforcement representatives before these provisions made it into the final version of this legislation as well.

For many Illinoisans, our criminal justice system is not working. This legislation is our first step in reimagining it.

• Elgie Sims, a Democrat from Chicago, is Illinois senator from the 17th District.

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