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.
|Public safety is best served by detaining those who pose a threat to our communities rather than jailing those who are simply poor and unable to post bond for nonviolent offenses; This costs taxpayers millions of dollars per year and does not serve public safety. We have focused on bail reform, having instructed our prosecutors to recommend that people charged with misdemeanors and low-level felonies who do not have a history of “violent crime” or pose a risk to public safety be released pre-trial, in addition to expunging 1,000 low level marijuana offenders, and overturning more than 90 wrongful convicted citizens which leads the nation. We have to be proactive in continuing to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs and being diligent in making sure our criminal justice system is actually serving justice. Under my leadership incarceration in regards to the Cook County jail population is now at a historic low.|
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?
|Upon taking office, my team and I set out our “Mission, Vision, and Values” and this guides our work every day. We pledged to do justice in pursuit of thriving, healthy, and safe communities. We committed to creating a safer, stronger Cook County and approaching every case with integrity, demanding accountability, and increasing our presence in the community. We said that our success would not be measured in convictions, that we believed in doing what’s right and fighting for the best, most fair outcomes, whatever form that takes, based upon the facts, evidence, and the law. We own and assert that it is our responsibility to address the historic inequities in our criminal justice system. Over the past three years, we have prioritized prosecuting violent crimes, bringing greater accountability to police-involved shootings, leading on criminal justice reform with bail, expunging low-level marijuana offenses and exonerating wrongful conviction.|
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 worked relentlessly to right the wrongs of the failed War on Drugs. Our work is not to base our success in measuring convictions, but that we believed in doing what’s right and fighting for the best, most fair outcomes, whatever form that takes, based upon the facts, evidence, and the law. We work to providing equity and justice in all levels of our prosecution.|
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?
|I have worked on bail reform in the past and continue to support it. Pre-trial detention should only be for those who are a flight risk or pose a threat to the community. That is why we have instructed our prosecutors to recommend that people charged with misdemeanors and low-level felonies who do not have a history of “violent crime” or pose a risk to public safety be released pre-trial. I am committed to continuing to work to create alternatives that bring an end to the further criminalization of poor, black and brown communities through cash bail.|
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?
|Yes; Our office offers diversion treatment programs for both mental health and drug abuse offenders for both felony and misdemeanors charges. For drug abuse defendants post plea the must complete 18-24 months of probation focusing on treatment, housing, education and employment opportunities. Drug court targets high risk, high need persons charged with non-violent, felony offenses eligible for probation. Participation may include a period of in-custody treatment. Charges are dismissed upon successful completion of program requirements determined by case managers. For mental health defendants they must complete 24 months of intensive probation focusing on treatment, medication compliance, housing, and employment opportunities. Mental health court targets high risk, high need persons charged with nonviolent offenses that are eligible for probation. Charges are dismissed upon successful completion of program requirements determined by case managers. The eligibility depends on the level of the charges. As with all cases we seek the most effective method of justice versus simply pursuing a conviction for a conviction rate.|
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?
|Again, under my administration we have prioritized going after violent offenses, people and organizations who pose a threat to public safety versus overly criminalizing marginalized and economically disenfranchised communities.|
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?
|Yes, it is our duty to help educate and drive equity within the criminal justice system.|
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.
|Again, my administration has instructed our prosecutors to recommend that people charged with misdemeanors and low-level felonies who do not have a history of “violent crime” or pose a risk to public safety be released pre-trial. I am committed to continuing to work to create alternatives that bring an end to the further criminalization of poor, black and brown communities through cash bail. Furthermore, in recognizing the unfortunate mantra that Chicago was the false confession capital of the U.S. we have worked diligently to now be leading the nation in exoneration the wrongfully convicted with nearly 100 men and women becoming exonerated, gaining a fresh start.|
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.
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?
|Due to the inherent conflict of interest in prosecuting police officers that the office works closely with, a special prosecutor should be the one to objectively prosecute police officers in police-involved shooting cases.|
What standards would your office use to determine when to prosecute a police officer who engages in misconduct?
|Aprosecuted. Due to the inherent conflict of interest in prosecuting police officers that the office works closely with, a special prosecutor should be the one to objectively prosecute police officers in police-involved shooting cases. Furthermore, we have to make sure that in any case the public understands no one is above the law especially in cases that involved with those of us who have swore to protect and serve.|
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?
|Again, police officers should be investigated and prosecuted in the same way that all defendants are prosecuted.|
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?
Immigrant communities have been disproportionately affected by a biased criminal justice system. All of the reforms put in place by my administration have positively impacted the lives of all people of color ranging from bail reform, to expunging low-level non-violent cannabis offenses and overturning wrongful convictions. For too long minority communities have faced the brunt of the inequitable justice system in place. We’ve begun to change that while also making these same communities safer.
My office understands that Trump's anti-immigrant policies and the crackdown has made it significantly harder for immigrant communities to report crimes or receive public aid. At the beginning of my term, I implemented a fraud hot-line that let Cook County residents anonymously report if they'd been the victim of fraud due to their immigration status. Residents shouldn't be afraid to report crimes. In addition, we successfully stopped the administration from blocking immigrants from receiving public aid like Medicaid or housing subsidies. In the wake of the Trump travel ban our office hired the first-ever Immigration Policy Advisor to limit the impact on communities who are subject to deportation. We have also sued and successfully, got an injunction against the Trump Administration from holding a person's use of public aid against them in a status change application.
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?
|Upon taking office, we have worked to become the most transparent prosecutor’s office in the country and the first to provide the citizens we serve online access to every felony case dating back to 2011. It is extremely important in our work that the public feels as though they can trust those who are charged with serving them.|
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?
|Again, upon taking office, we have worked to become the most transparent prosecutor’s office in the country and the first to provide the citizens we serve online access to every felony case dating back to 2011. Our dashboard provides detailed information on more than 350,000 felony offenders, how we prosecute each case, and the outcomes, so the public can see for themselves our efforts to create safer and just communities. The use of data allows us to examine our decision-making and make adjustments when necessary in charging, pleading and sentencing decisions. It also gives the public the tools to hold us accountable. Additionally, we have shared thousands of our case files with the Marshall Project which published a full report on our workings.|
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?
|As mentioned, we have shared thousands of our case files with the Marshall Project which published a full report on our workings. This report can be found through the Chicago Reporter.|
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?'|
|WouId 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?|