SAFE-T Act: What happens when no one is watching?


A little-known provision in Illinois’ sprawling SAFE-T Act went into effect in January and has had the effect of allowing people on electronic monitoring have two days of unmonitored movement.

The extra freedom was intended to give defendants awaiting trial freedom to take care of grocery shopping and what the law vaguely describes as “other basic necessities.”

WGN Investigates reviewed records from the Cook County Sheriff’s Department that showed some defendants were accused of using the time to make repeated visits to a casino, shop at a gun store, commit retail thefts, and attempt a kidnapping. Four defendants have been murdered while on “free movement” days this year, according to the Cook County sheriff.

“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,’” said Sheriff Tom Dart.

Defendants still wear their ankle monitors on their “free movement” days but their whereabouts are not tracked in real-time because the sheriff has no way to quickly sort through the legitimacy of “basic necessity” stops.  

Advocates point to recent studies that have found the increased use of electronic monitoring is not a key driver of crime. 

“Basic human needs were not being met when people were on electronic monitoring,” said defense attorney Cathryn Crawford, who defends the extra freedom afforded defendants who are innocent until proven guilty. “They couldn’t take out the garbage, they couldn’t go to the grocery store, they couldn’t go to medical appointments, they couldn’t access mental health therapy.”

Watch the full story in the video player above.

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