REDUCING ILLINOIS JAIL AND PRISON POPULATION
Illinois has a problem with mass incarceration. Among other indicators, our state prison system was designed to house approximately 32,000 individuals, but currently houses nearly 40,000 people - many of whom are serving long sentences. Each year, more people enter our prisons.
Do you believe that Cook County and the State of Illinois should reduce their current incarceration rates? If yes, please describe what specific policies you will pursue if elected to reduce the number of people incarcerated in prisons and jails.
|We have a mass incarceration problem where nonviolent offenders are locked away because they can't afford to bond out. Often, they may be there because they have substance abuse problems or mental health issues or facing other struggles like homelesseness. We need to significantly reduce the number of people we are locking away without jeopardizing the safety of our communities. As State's Attorney, I will prioritize reforming bond guidance for nonviolent crimes and expand our use of diversion programs so that people can continue participating in society when they pose no danger to others.|
The Cook County State's Attorney's office has been criticized in the past for overcharging defendants in order to pressure them to accept guilty pleas instead of going to trial.
Will you commit to only charging crimes that the evidence clearly supports (i.e., not overcharging). If yes, please share what steps, if any, you would take to ensure that cases are appropriately charged?
|I do not support overcharging with the intent to plead down. I intend to only pursue charges with strong evidence and I will ensure that the CCSAO's guidelines reflect that.|
In Cook County, all drug cases are directly filed by police officers without any oversight or review of the charges by the State's Attorney's office.
If you are elected, will you end the practice of allowing the police to directly file charges, and require all charges to be reviewed by a prosecutor before filing?
|We have a mass incarceration problem where those with substance abuse or mental health issues are often locked up for nonviolent offenses, then stay in jail because they can't afford to bond out. There are multiple steps in the process where CCSAO can act and make improvements, but one of them is making sure that drug charges don't advance unnecessarily. I support CCSAO involvement in the filing of drug charges, particularly since CCSAO may have access to substance abuse professionals with additional insight and training relative to CPD officers alone. We need to start diverting people to treatment either before charges are filed or as early as possible; hopefully at bond court.|
Although people charged with crimes are supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty, many spend months and even years incarcerated pretrial simply because they cannot afford to pay a monetary bond.
Do you support ending the courts' reliance upon cash bail to determine whether a defendant should be jailed while they await trial, and instead utilizing an individualized showing of substantial flight risk or danger to other persons?
The Cook County Jail should be used to hold people who are a danger to the public; we should not be keeping people there just because they are poor or have substance abuse issues or mental health issues. As State's Attorney, I will stop the needless incarceration of nonviolent offenders while keeping violent criminals away from the public while they await trial.
ALTERNATIVES TO INCARCERATION: SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND MENTAL HEALTH
People often wind up in the criminal legal system because they are struggling with substance use disorders and mental health issues.
Is it appropriate for prosecutors, police, and the courts to play a role in helping people with substance use disorders and mental health issues access evidence-based care provided by qualified health care professionals?
When we do not provide support for those with substance abuse disorders and mental health issues, those individuals can end up going through the system repeatedly, building up an otherwise preventable criminal record. In the State's Attorney's Office and other parts of the justice system, we have professionals trained to provide support both pre- and post-conviction. Not only is it appropriate for us to assist these individuals in finding help, but I intend to expand the resources in the CCSAO to better serve them.
CONDITIONS OF RELEASE AND PROBATION
Conditions of release often include prohibitions that are difficult to avoid, such as curfew violations or associating with groups of people from shared communities.
Would you encourage police departments in Cook County to limit arrests for violations of release conditions that do not harm or pose a risk of harm to others?
|I have a client, Candace Clark, with an otherwise-clean record who was charged with the very same crime as Jussie Smollett. Unlike Smollett -- whose charges were dropped by my opponent -- my client has to fulfill onerous conditions including report to court every month, report to a probation officer every month, maintain a job, pay restitution, and seek court permission to even leave the county. We have a two-tier system that treats you differently depending on where you're from or who you know; until we fix it, it is unfair to arrest people like Candace for failing to jump through every hoop while others never had to jump through hoops for the same crime.|
ADDRESSING RACIAL DISPARITIES
Racial disparities traditionally mark our criminal legal system. People of color are overrepresented in contacts with the police (traffic and pedestrian stops), prosecutions and incarceration.
Do you believe that the State's Attorney's Office has a duty to reduce racial disparities in the criminal legal system?
|We need a system that ensures justice for all, regardless of race, gender, zip code, income level, or political connections. Right now, we have a State's Attorney's Office that gives special treatment to some while throwing the book at others; this fundamentally erodes confidence in our justice system and rule of law. Restoring fairness is one of my main goals as State's Attorney. In tackling racial disparities specifically, we have to be vigilant at every step in the process, from arrest to charging to sentencing to supervision, to ensure that conscious or subconscious bias doesn't taint decision-making.|
Will you commit to tracking and working to eliminate racial disparities in decisions made by the State's Attorney's office, such as disparities in charging decisions, bail recommendations, plea bargains, and sentencing recommendations? If you answered yes, please include any specific policies and practices you will implement to reduce racial disparities.
|As State's Attorney, I plan on expanding anti-bias training at CCSAO and supporting such expansion in other parts of the justice system as well. I will also seek recommendations from and work with community partners to better address the discrimination they experience in the justice system.|
CRIMINALIZATION OF POVERTY
Low-income people are regularly directed into the criminal legal system and face barriers to getting out due to their limited financial circumstances. A combination of high fines and fees for minor traffic tickets, civil offenses, and even misdemeanor crimes result in jail time and punitive collection practices for those unable to pay.
Do you agree that high fines, fees and financial assessments in the criminal and traffic court system have contributed to the "criminalization of poverty" where poor people face harsheroutcomes for the same conduct as others due to their poverty? If you answered yes, please describe the specific actions you will take as State's Attorney to mitigate the harm that fines, fees, and other financial assessments imposed by criminal and traffic courts inflict upon people living in poverty.
|Right now, there are hundreds of people sitting in Cook County Jail with a bond of $1,000 or less. We absolutely need to stop locking up nonviolent offenders just because they can't afford to pay for their freedom. As State's Attorney, I will make sure that we get our bond priorities straight and make sure that, when the justice system makes financial demands of individuals, those demands incorporate realistic assessment of what those individuals can pay. Additionally, high fees for people who plead or are found guilty of crimes just encourages them to commit more crimes to pay court fees, which is what we are trying to avoid.|
In recent years, public attention has focused on the need to enhance police accountability tothe public. Residents from all neighborhoods across Cook County want policing that reflects the needs and values of their community and respects all residents.
Would you ask the Attorney General to appoint an independent prosecutor in all officerinvolved shootings?
|I support full transparency in investigations of officer-involved shootings. However, the Attorney General does not have the specialty to provide this over-site and the Attorney General has not shown the inclination to get involved in these type of cases despite concurrent jurisdiction. In these cases, the States Attorneys Office will provide a full report with explanation of why we did or did not pursue charges for review by the public.|
What standards would your office use to determine when to prosecute a police officer who engages in misconduct?
|As an Assistant States Attorney, I prosecuted three police officers so I have experience in navigating the process between the administrative and criminal processes. If a police officer can be proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt, we will charge and prosecute them as we would anyone else.|
The Supreme Court has ruled that criminal defendants should receive all relevant information that may impact the credibility of a witness. A recent DOJ investigation of the Chicago Police Department found that there is currently no system to ensure that information about CPD officers - such as disciplinary actions or evidence of having provided false reports in the past - is disclosed to the State's Attorney's Office and criminal defendants as required.
Would you take affirmative steps to investigate the credibility of CPD officers when considering them as witnesses for prosecutions? If you answered yes, please describe what systems will you put in place to ensure that the State's Attorney's Office is consistently providing defendants with this constitutionally mandated information?
|In the last several years, nearly 100 convictions have been vacated due to the involvement of a single corrupt CPD officer. For the sake of those wrongfully locked up, we must guarantee that our prosecutions are based on honest and reliable witnesses. As State's Attorney, I will empower the existing Law Enforcement Accountability Division to include ethics review of CPD officers prior to their use as witnesses. That expansion will also include a liaison dedicated to ensuring that records from CPD are properly received by pertinent parties, including CCSAO and defendants.|
Cook County proudly proclaims itself to be a welcoming community for immigrants and asylum seekers. Interactions with the criminal legal system can adversely impact an individual's immigration status.
Do you think prosecutors should consider the immigration-related consequences of prosecutorial decisions at all stages of a case and reach immigration-safe dispositions for noncitizens whenever possible? If yes, please explain what steps you will take to minimize the collateral immigration consequences to non-citizens in the criminal legal system?
|Right now, we are seeing an unjust targeting of immigrants by the Trump Administration. As State's Attorney, I will not cooperate with ICE's immoral practices of mass incarceration and mass deportation, and I will ensure that Cook County's resources including gang databases are not used to assist in their reckless and illegal raids.|
Transparency in public office is critical to build trust and confidence between residents and their government. Given the crucial role of the States Attorney's Office, providing the public with a clear understanding of how government authority is used takes on heightened importance.
Would transparency be an important value for your office?
|The States Attorney's Office needs to be a beacon of public trust if people are going to believe in the system. As a special prosecutor found, the current States Attorney consistently did not tell the truth in the Smollett investigation (most notably that his case was not handled like any other case which is clearly false). We can not have real Criminal Justice Reform with out integrity and transparency from the States Attorney's Office.|
Will you commit to publicly posting statistical information on charging decisions, convictions, plea bargains, declinations, diversion program placements, and sentences -disaggregated by race and gender?
|It is essential that the county provide statistical information that is easily accessible and comprehensive. Something that has troubled our community for the last several years has been
some of the unintended consequences of bond reform. We've seen many gun criminals arrested one day, then walk free the next without paying a dime -- some of whom were arrested with another illegal weapon shortly after. Reform proponents have defended the new rules using a study that showed a low rate of recidivism, but it's just now coming out that numerous violent crimes were excluded from statistics and hundreds more felons have re-offended on bond than we were previously told. We only know this because journalists fought in court for the data to be released, rather than suppressed by the government. We can't have officials hiding facts from the public because they're afraid of the consequences.
If the State's Attorney's office is not already collecting the data mentioned above, will you pledge to create a plan for collecting and publicizing that data?
|The current CCSAO data portal is not easily accessed by the public and the current CCSAO inexplicably stopped publishing annual reports after 2017. There is also no information regarding misdemeanor crimes on the current portal. This will change in my administration.|
CIVIL LIBERTIES POLICY LIGHTNING ROUND
|Do you commit to using your platform as Cook County State's Attorney to support state legislation that would reform the criminal legal system?'|
|W o u Id you support legislation that reclassifies the penalty for small-scale drug
possession from a felony to a misdemeanor?
|Illinois' dollar-value thresh.old for prosecuting retail theft as a felony is one of the lowest of any state, and was last updated ten years ago. Would you support leitislation increasing the threshold to a level similar to surrounding states?|
|Would you support efforts to repeal mandatory minimums and mandatory sentencing enhancements that limit judges' discretion?|
|Would you maximize the use of restorative justice and pre-adjudication diversion programs to keep young people out of the criminal legal system whenever possible?|
|Will you commit to charging the lowest level crime that still promotes public safety?|
|Would you commit to diverting people with substance abuse and mental health disorders away from jails when there is a community-based or alternative treatment available that does not involve incarceration?|
|Do you commit to working to expand the treatment programs available for people with substance abuse and mental health issues, including asking legislators for appropriations and working with communities?|
|Do you commit to recommending that all fees be waived for people sentenced for criminal, traffic, or civil offenses who cannot afford to pay?|
|Do you commit to recommending that any fines imposed as a penalty for a civil, traffic, or criminal offense be set at an amount that is attainable in light of an individual's financial circumstances?|