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Illinois Cooks Up Cashless Bail And Discovers It’s A ‘Perfect Recipe For Lawlessness’

Critics of Illinois’ criminal justice system say it puts criminals above law enforcement and public safety.


In July, after the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the state’s controversial law eliminating cash bail, Chris Southwood predicted that the so-called SAFE-T Act would “put dangerous criminals back on the street instead of keeping them in jail or forcing them to post cash bail as they await trial.” 

“Many of those offenders will commit crimes again within hours of their release,” said Southwood, the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police’s president.  

He was right.  

But Southwood would be the first to admit it didn’t take a soothsayer to see the looming criminal justice disaster that critics of the SAFE-T Act — officially known as the Illinois Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today (SAFE-T) Act — say is only getting worse.  

Chicago Alderman Raymond Lopez, a rare Democrat speaking out against the end of cash bail in the Land of Lincoln, told Fox News’ “America Reports” in October that innocent people are being “hunted down like prey.”  

“[T]hings like robbery, burglary, arson, assault, even threatening elected officials like myself, do not warrant you being held on bond anymore in the state of Illinois, and criminals are taking note,” Lopez told the cable news outlet.  

Exhibit A: the transgender-identified Jason Lee Willie, who goes by Alexia Willie.  

Two Systems of Justice 

The 47-year-old man from Nashville, Illinois, was charged last month with 14 federal felony counts of interstate communication of a threat to injure. Willie, according to the criminal complaint, allegedly declared while on video in online chatrooms that he would walk into schools or public restrooms to shoot or sexually abuse children.  

Law enforcement officials say Willie referenced Covenant Presbyterian School killer Audrey Elizabeth Hale, the transgender-identified shooter who in late March murdered three 9-year-olds and three staff members of the Nashville private elementary school.  

“There’s a lot of transgenders out here that are tired of being picked on and we’re going to go into the schools and we’re going to kill their f-cking children out here, and that’s the end of it. We’re at war,” Willie said online, according to the indictment

Willie allegedly made several comments about sexually assaulting children, including threats against “your daughters in the bathroom” as someone who is “openly a pedophile,” according to court filings.  

The transgender suspect is also accused of making racist and violent comments about black people, threatening to use a syringe to “infect them with HIV.” 

Willie entered a plea of not guilty to all counts.  

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois ruled that Willie must be detained pending a Jan. 16 trial because the government has proven “By clear and convincing evidence that no condition or combination of conditions of release will reasonably assure the safety of any other person and the community.” 

Released After Past Threats  

Such was not the case in Illinois on Aug. 14, when local law enforcement officials first arrested Willie.  

Feminist magazine Reduxx reported in October that Willie initially was apprehended in Perry County, Illinois, a rural enclave of about 21,000 people approximately 70 miles southeast of St. Louis. Sheriff’s deputies had gotten word that Willie was seen making “disturbing threats towards schools and local children, specifically indicating there were plots in-progress to commit a school shooting, though no single institution was named,” according to Reduxx. 

Despite the seriousness of the allegations, Reduxx reported Willie was released at the time on non-monetary bond about two days after being booked on a charge of resisting arrest. The suspect was initially charged with disorderly conduct as well, but Perry County Sheriff Chad Howard told the publication that the charges related to the threats were dropped due to a lack of a specific target. 

He also cited Illinois’ SAFE-T Act, suggesting law enforcement’s hands were tied.  

A little less than a month before, the state Supreme Court had issued its ruling upholding the law and making Illinois the first state in the nation to eliminate cash bail entirely.  

Howard said that even if Willie is convicted on the resisting arrest charge against him, jail time isn’t likely.  

“It’s more or less going to end up going to be a hearing. Now with the state of Illinois having the SAFE-T Act, which went into effect on September 18, those types of crimes are no longer containable,” the sheriff told Reduxx. “You just bring [a suspect] in for booking, processing, and biometrics and then you release them with a court date and it is all handled by the courts from there on out.” 

The sheriff did not return multiple messages seeking comment.  

Now Willie faces up to 70 years in prison on federal charges.  

‘The Perfect Recipe for Lawlessness’  

In December 2022, the Democrat-dominated General Assembly amended sweeping criminal justice and policing reforms to the 2021 SAFE-T Act, which included the elimination of monetary bail in the state. The provision, ultimately surviving court challenges, was buttressed by the “blue wave that washed over Illinois in the 2022 mid-terms,” The Chicago Sun-Times reported.  

Proponents, such as State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, insist that the reforms are about creating a fairer system for the “systematically oppressed,” particularly low-income and minority defendants.  

“Responsibly modernizing our pretrial procedures will not only create a fairer process, it will help to make our communities safer by basing release decisions on a public safety assessment instead of a defendant’s access to cash,” Gordon-Booth said in a statement in July.  

Critics say the left-led rewrite of Illinois’ criminal justice system continues the liberal pursuit of putting criminals above law enforcement and public safety.  

“Sweeping legislation like this limits judges’ ability to make decisions and exercise necessary discretion based on the facts of the case before them,” said State Sen. Win Stoller, a Republican from Germantown Hills.  

Southwood, of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, points to the latest crime data for 2022 and the opening weeks of 2023 that shows major crime rates in Illinois, particularly in Chicago, skyrocketed. Illinois’ largest city saw major crimes jump 41 percent last year and 55 percent in the first seven weeks of 2023 compared to the same periods the year before.  

National Trend

The story is similar in leftist-led cities across the country that have experimented with zero bail and other so-called social justice reforms.  

A study by the Yolo County (California) district attorney’s office found that the rate of recidivism was significantly higher for suspects paying no bail compared to those ordered to pay cash bail. The study found that “individuals released on Zero Bail were subsequently rearrested for a total of 163% more crimes than individuals released on bail.” 

The report also found:  

  • Arrested individuals released on Zero Bail reoffended at an average rate that was 70% higher than arrestees who posted bail.
  • The average recidivism rate for those released on Zero Bail was 78% over 18 months, while the average recidivism rate for those released on bail was only 46%.
  • Individuals released on Zero Bail committed new felonies 90% more often than those who posted bail.
  • Individuals released on Zero Bail committed new misdemeanors 123% more often than those who posted bail.

“The results of this recent study on the actual impacts of zero bail policies clearly demonstrate that victimization dramatically increases, and public safety is significantly compromised, when bail is eliminated as a tool for use by the courts,” said Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig.  

Zero-bail proponents insist the numbers show negligible effects on recidivism in bail reform cities, pointing to studies like those from a “recent PhD recipient and a professor at New York’s University of Albany School of Criminal Justice.” That study, “Does Bail Reform Increase Crime in New York State: Evidence from Interrupted Time-Series and Synthetic Control Methods,” was published in May in Justice Quarterly

But such analyses, critics say, disregard what law enforcement officials are encountering on the ground.  

What purveyors of such criminal justice reforms fail to acknowledge is that the cities pushing cashless bail and other get-out-of-jail-free policies remain the cities with the highest crime rates. A Heritage Foundation report published late last year, “The Blue City Murder Problem,” showed 27 of the top 30 crime-ridden cities are run by Democrats.  

“Those on the Left know that their soft-on-crime policies have wreaked havoc in the cities where they have implemented those policies,” authors Charles Stimson, Zack Smith, and Kevin D. Dayaratna, scholars at the Heritage Foundation, wrote in the report. 

Southwood said Illinois’ statewide SAFE-T Act and the full force of the elimination of cash bail are making things a lot more difficult for law enforcement and communities. He noted the case of  Treyshawn McLaren of Henderson, Illinois. McLaren was charged in September with counts of aggravated battery to his 3-month-old child, aggravated domestic battery, and endangering the life and safety of the child. The judge in the case placed McLaren on supervised release, denying the prosecution’s request to jail the suspect pending trial.  

McLaren had been arrested just a few months before on drugs and firearms charges in an FBI bust.  

“Criminals are nothing if not opportunists. And what an opportunity they’ve been served up by our elected representatives,” Southwood said. “Handcuff the cops, let felons out of jail without cash bail, and disarm law-abiding citizens. It’s the perfect recipe for lawlessness, and crooks statewide are busy cooking up a crime spree.” 

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