Illinois Justice Project

AGQ1: Role of AG in CJR

Illinois Attorney General Candidates Criminal Justice Questionnaire



I. Gun Violence

Gun violence in urban areas of the state continues to reach crisis levels. Legislative debates about increasing prison sentences for gun crimes have drawn passionate reaction on both sides of the issue. Even supporters of longer sentences have acknowledged that to stop gun violence, Illinois must do more than increase prison time for repeat offenses. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has said repeatedly that we cannot arrest our way out of this gun violence problem, and Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx has stated that while Illinois laws impose some of the most severe penalties to those convicted of gun crimes, the state has not enacted major legislation targeting the flow of illegal guns into victimized communities.

What specific actions would you take as Governor to help address gun violence? What should Illinois do to crack down on the flow of illegal guns into our neighborhoods? What will you do as Governor to improve police effectiveness, help support interventions of individuals at risk to commit and/or be victims of violence and improve community renewal efforts?


Daniel Biss

I’m a co-sponsor of the Gun Dealer Licensing Act to prevent illegal guns from entering our communities and I will continue building support for the legislation as governor. I would also support policies including reasonable restrictions on bad actors to stop the influx of firearms, limits on the number of guns that can be purchased within a given period of time, and enhance background checks. However, it is clear that only a fraction of guns in Illinois communities originate from Illinois dealers. That’s why, as governor, I’ll be an outspoken advocate for federal legislation promoting reasonable regulation of gun sales.

If we truly want to tackle the epidemic of gun violence in our communities, we must do more than regulate guns—we must treat gun violence as a public health issue. While our state already has many programs in place to prevent and control violence, my administration will make funding primary, secondary, and tertiary violence prevention programs a priority. This means fully funding intervention services and fighting to make healthcare, including support for mental health issues, universal at the state and local levels.


Chris Kennedy

We know that the majority of guns that are used in crimes in Illinois (60%) come from bordering states like Indiana and Wisconsin. That’s why a key piece of the eight-point plan that I laid out to combat gun violence is shutting down straw purchasers, which allow people to buy guns at traveling trade shows without having to go through background checks. This is an attack on our safety and a policy that our state retailers should help us shepherd through because it puts them at a disadvantage.

I would also sign the Illinois Gun Dealer Licensing Act into law, which would mandate state licensing for all Illinois firearms dealers who are currently only required to be licensed at the federal level; and I would create a statewide gun tracing program. We can’t get to the root of a problem if we can’t consistently trace it back to the source.

 Lastly, the gun trains, which have been allowed to self-regulate and whose negligent behavior has led to multiple thefts of guns, will receive a zero tolerance policy from my administration. One rail line company alone has allowed more than 100 stolen guns to be released out onto our streets and those are only the thefts we know about.

We can limit illegal gun access that would better protect the people of our state without violating responsible gun owners’ second amendment rights. The time for talk is over. We need to act.

Police and the communities they serve must have a symbiotic relationship to keep the people of our state safe while also ensuring that officers have the respect and trust they need to do their jobs. Protecting bad cops fails to bring justice to the communities that are abused while endangering the entire police force because the communities they serve can become dismissive of, or even antagonistic to, their role within the community. That means we have to hold our police to a high standard and hold them accountable when they do not meet those standards.

 There should be a state standard of police training. Every police officer in Illinois should start their career with a rigorous, streamlined, foundational training standard that includes non-aggressive, de-escalation training and mental health crisis training, which is proving effective in places like Camden, N.J.; the state training should then parlay into locally tailored, culturally sensitive training, so that we are preparing officers to identify with the communities they intend to serve.

 Every police force should have community policing, starting with our most under-resourced communities where rates of crime and violence are highest, and community policing should begin with a concerted effort to recruit police officers from the very communities where they are needed the most. With support from the federal government places like Chicago invested heavily in community policing during the 1990s, resulting in reduced crime, less fear of crime within the affected community, and better relations between community members and the police. In Chicago, where crime is high, the CAPs program has been significantly diminished. The city has also reduced its police force by somewhere between 1,000-2,000 cops when compared to a decade ago. Mayor Emanuel has been saying for the better part of a year that he’ll increase his force by 1,000 officers yet his force has only added about 50 officers and that doesn’t account for those who are retiring.

Meanwhile, the City of Chicago Office of the Inspector General found that the City has spent nearly $575 million on police overtime over the last six years. The department has overspent its overtime budget in each of the last six years, topping out at $146 million. Beyond the financial impact of the department’s reliance on overtime, there exists the very real concern of officers reporting to work fatigued from long hours at a stressful job. The City of Chicago is also building a nearly $100 million dollar West Garfield Park training facility rather than spending those resources on investments in local programs or services where violence has taken hold. The state should incentivize better local planning and investments of resources in our most violent communities through shared grant programs but also in initiatives that catalyze economic revitalization and growth, with set standards that institute a formal role for community input.

We have all seen the many videos, namely the Laquan McDonald video, that reveal police misconduct and abuse under no uncertain terms. To uphold justice and restore confidence in our law enforcement, it is imperative that we pursue justice for the victims of crimes committed at the hands of police officers. That’s why I support full oversight and follow through on the recommendations made by the Department of Justice to improve the City of Chicago’s policing, including a consent decree with an independent monitor of the Chicago Police Department. The response we have following our most egregious cases sets an important standards. I will support following the lead of states like New Jersey, which has instituted a publicly reported statewide examination of police use-of-force, and in any case involving the murder of unarmed civilians by police, I will support the appointment of a special prosecutor to ensure a fair and unbiased investigation into police-involved murders. We need to clearly demonstrate that the rule of law means something to everyone, including those who are expected to uphold it.

Violence is a vicious cycle but opportunity is the enemy of violence. It can divert our victims or offenders away from a life of violence and that’s why multiple parts of my eight point plan to combat violence center on investing in the communities where violence is frequently occurring, and wherever possible, supporting locally led programs and interventions to divert violence. Be it violence, or economic development, or education, our under-resourced communities understand and recognize the disadvantages that lead to bad outcomes. They don’t need top down interventions from their cities or the state. Rather, they need to be listened to and lifted up in providing solutions for themselves.

The state should be a partner to our local communities in providing, incentivizing, and freeing-up local resources that fund local diversion programs with a proven track record of success, such as Becoming a Man (BAM), Redeploy Illinois or other programs identified in partnership with communities in need.

 Perhaps most overlooked is the public health component of violence prevention. Public health hazards such as exposure to lead and other toxins, lack of access to quality food, and exposure to trauma, affect psychosocial development. According to research by the Illinois Department of Public Health, lead exposure leads to hyperactivity, aggressive behavior problems and learning disabilities. Approximately 2 million housing units in Illinois are estimated to have lead-based paint. Moreover, lead poisoning in Illinois remains one of the highest in the nation. As Governor, I would move to increase investments in lead testing and abatement programs across the State, targeting high-risk communities to ensure that we decrease the likelihood of children being exposed to harmful toxins that result in aggressive and impulsive behavior.

 As Governor, I would also move to expand access to mental health services across the state. This includes advocating for the restoration of licensed social workers and case managers in our schools to ensure young people have the resources they need to learn conflict resolution and stress management skills.

 More broadly, we need fairer funding from our state for critical public services and local development, starting with our public schools. At a young age, we need to keep our youth in schools, learning and engaged in productive activities through extended school days and years filled with extracurricular activities and skill-based training. Just as Frederick Douglas said, “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

As governor, I am committed to paying for a more significant portion of our education system on the state level through a graduated, progressive income tax, while continuing a needs-based funding model to administer increased resources. Doing so will free up local tax dollars to be spent on other community-based priorities such as before and after school programs or police recruitment and training.

 To truly divert both youth and adults away from crime, we need a targeted plan to increase economic opportunity in under-resourced communities. I will work quickly to pass a capital bill, and within that capital bill, I will set aside funding for local development in under-resourced communities that further prioritizes local job placement. I will set up a process within existing relevant agencies such as the Illinois Department of Commerce, to provide local development planning assistance and I will prioritize small businesses and minority business lending to assist with local development projects.

Both victims and perpetrators of violence experience a mental, social and emotional setback. I want every community in our state to have the public health assistance they need to heal because if left unattended, such experiences can lead to an irreparable cycle of violent or destructive behavior that will deteriorate the life of the individual and the communities in which they live. Just as we need to provide physical therapy for the wounded, so too must we provide mental health services. The challenge of trauma is never just physical.

I will support the placement of social workers and social and emotional learning programs in our public school, starting with the communities where crime and violence are most prevalent. And I will work to ensure that mental health providers are operating within these same communities through social safety net hospitals or other public institutions. While our jails should have mental health and addiction services readily available, they should not be relied upon to be our largest addiction treatment service or mental health care providers.

 For those who do enter our criminal justice system, we need to make our prisons not simply about punishment but about redemption and restorative justice as well. I believe our Department of Corrections is not so much about correcting bad behavior, but about correcting our broken social safety net. If we are going to release people, we should do so in a way that they become contributors to society. They should have a driver’s license. They should have a state ID. They should have the ability to read; and they should be directed toward a pipeline of employment, housing and healthcare.

In the Department of Corrections, I will appoint a dedicated advisory to coordinate our philanthropic, nonprofit, and public services into comprehensive rehabilitation programs for our prison population. I will establish a pipeline through which the state serves as an employment agency in coordination with the Department of Corrections to train ex-offenders for jobs before they even leave jail. Such a job program would be modeled off existing programs life CTA’s Second Chance program through the work of groups like Faith in Place.


J.B. Pritzker

Gun violence is a public health epidemic. It kills people, destroys families, and rips apart our communities. Recognizing violence as a health epidemic and building safer communities must be at the center of any plan to reduce gun violence. Like all epidemic diseases, the treatment must include interruption, risk reduction, and a change in community norms so that everyone can feel safe in their own communities.

There is no single cause for this epidemic and there is no single solution. Access to guns and where they come from is one factor. Over half of guns recovered by the Chicago Police Department can be traced to a state outside of Illinois. Without better data collection and law enforcement coordination across the state, it’s hard to know the same about crime guns recovered from Peoria and East St. Louis to Cairo. That’s a problem.

Systemic disinvestment in our communities leading to adverse economic outcomes is also a key factor. Unemployment in the five Chicago communities most affected by gun violence is as high as 35%. Unemployment in other regions of the state most affected by gun violence exceeds the state average too. This has only been compounded by Bruce Rauner’s failed leadership. His 736- day budget crisis decimated funding for violence prevention, after school programs, and mental health services.

We need to fight for all communities to be healthy and safe, and we need to partner with those already doing this work. As governor, I will work with all communities affected by gun violence. Together, we will lead efforts to treat gun violence as a public health epidemic, rebuild healthy communities, increase firearm safety, and support the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

  • Treat gun violence as a public health epidemic:
    • Empower the Illinois Department of Public Health to expand their treatment of gun violence as a public health epidemic.
    • Fight for public health research on gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at the federal level.
    • Focus on prevention and intervention by investing in community programs that interrupt violence and encourage non-violent conflict resolution.
  • Rebuild healthy communities:
    • Restore funding for community organizations and human services programs. These services are critical to prevent violence, disrupt violence through after school and mental health services, treat those most at risk, and change community norms.
    • Create economic opportunity in neighborhoods most affected by gun violence by increasing access to capital and training for small businesses and expanding education opportunities for youth.
    • Partner with localities to develop conflict resolution programs for our children.
  • Increase firearm safety:
    • Implement universal background checks for every gun sale in Illinois.
    • Make a lethal violence protection order available so that families can step in to protect loved ones from harming themselves and others.
    • Ban assault weapons, high capacity magazines, and bump stocks in Illinois to help prevent mass shootings.
    • Support and sign a gun dealer licensing bill to ensure firearms are sold in a safe and responsible manner.
    • Create and lead a consortium of regional states committed to reducing gun trafficking across our state border. This will also allow law enforcement agencies to share data to help track the flow of illegal guns.
    • Create a dedicated gun crime investigation unit within state police that coordinates with local police departments to focus on illegal gun trafficking and gun crime.
    • Secure federal funding to improve background check records reporting.
    • Create an inter-agency working group to evaluate the state’s progress in providing prohibiting records to the federal NICS background check system.
    • Ensure all domestic violence and drug abuse prohibiting records are pre-validated and uploaded to the appropriate background check systems in a timely manner.
  • Support the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve:
    • Increase accountability between law enforcement and the communities they serve by making the Traffic and Pedestrian Stop Statistical Study permanent and incentivizing data collection for all stops no matter the result.
    • Implement continuing education training for law enforcement that is culturally competent, evidence-based, and a routine component of professional development. We also need to ensure this training includes instruction on de-escalation tactics, proper use of force, and community intervention.
    • Support state and local law enforcement officers by ensuring they receive proper mental health services for any trauma they may experience.