The Responding Candidates
The Coalition for Justice Reform distributed a criminal justice questionnaire to the eight Democratic and two Republican candidates running for Attorney General in the March 20 primary election. The questions were compiled by the coalition, which is comprised of the following organizations dedicated to supporting criminal justice reform: the ACLU of Illinois, Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI Chicago), Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Chicago Urban League, Clergy for a New Drug Policy, Community Renewal Society, Illinois Justice Project and Safer Foundation
Democratic candidates Scott Drury, Sharon Fairley, Aaron Goldstein, Renato Mariotti, Pat Quinn, Kwame Raoul, and Nancy Rotering responded to the questionnaire, and their answers can be found by clicking the questions below. If other candidates complete the questionnaire, we will add their responses.
1. THE ROLE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM: Illinois residents, policy makers and advocates from all parts of the state and across the political spectrum have united to understand how to improve the criminal justice system. The current efforts are based on the well-defined proposition that an effective criminal justice system provides both fairness and safety for all people of the state, despite their color, creed, geographic location or economic standing.
The Office of the Illinois Attorney General is responsible for law enforcement and the equal protection of law for all citizens. What role will your administration play in the criminal justice reform movement? How would your approach be different from the current administration when it comes to justice reform and/or how would it be similar? Please identify a particular policy or position that would be a focus of your criminal justice reform work as Attorney General.
2. BOND REFORM: In July of 2017, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released a memo outlining how Cook County’s wealth-based pretrial detention scheme violates both the Illinois Bail Statute and U.S Constitution. Holder joins the chorus of attorneys, community organizations and policy groups that recognize that, too often, a person’s access to wealth is the deciding factor in determining whether he or she remains incarcerated after arrest.
Passage of the Bond Reform Act of 2017 by the 100th General Assembly reaffirms the already existing Illinois Criminal Code’s protections against the misuse of the bond system. Nevertheless, the overuse of cash bond, which bases pre-trial release decisions on wealth and not risk, still continues across the state. The Attorney General is defending the state’s bond system in Robinson v. Lewis, a case that challenges the constitutionality of the practice. The case is being heard in the Chancery Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County.
Do you agree with the Holder memo, that opines that traditional use of bond in Illinois uses intentionally unaffordable cash bonds as a mean to keep people incarcerated in a pre-trial setting and thus is a constitutionally unacceptable practice, or do you support the Attorney General’s current defense of the system?
If elected, what would you do to help improve bond court practice and outcomes across the state?
3. RECORDS EXPUNGEMENT: Over one million Illinois residents have a criminal record of some kind. Many of these people are attempting to get past their previous missteps and live productive lives, but are hampered by the barriers these criminal records have on their ability to move forward.
The Illinois legislature has worked to address the issue, most recently expanding the number of individuals who are eligible for sealing relief. However, much remains to be done. For example, the practice of private companies purchasing criminal records from governments and making the information available to the public through the internet (despite not being in compliance with new state laws restricting access) has gone unchecked in some instances.
What would you do to address the barriers criminal records present in acquiring safe housing, attaining life-improving education and securing gainful employment?
In particular, how would you direct the Attorney General’s Office to enforce the current laws on the books that seek to achieve records relief?
4. POLICE MISCONDUCT: In August of 2017, the current Illinois Attorney General sued the City of Chicago, contending that reforms by the city are not sufficient to prevent the Chicago Police Department from continuing a pattern of excessive and deadly force that disproportionately hurts African Americans and Latinos.
Statewide, in the limited circumstances when a law enforcement officer uses excessive and deadly force and needs to be brought to justice, local state’s attorneys find themselves in a difficult situation of having to prosecute members of the same local police department or agency that they rely on to serve as the investigators and witnesses in the overwhelming majority of their cases. While state’s attorney’s offices all across the state are willing to take on this task, it is certainly not an optimal situation and can produce, or be perceived to produce, poor results.
The Illinois Criminal Code grants the Attorney General the power to assist or preside over the trial of any person charged with a crime in Illinois. How would you direct your office to participate in current Attorney General’s lawsuit against the city on police reform? Do you support a consent decree?
Do recent personnel changes within the Chicago Police Department and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability or the introduction of the new Attorney General website on the consent decree affect your opinion on the need to reform?
Do you believe that special prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office should be used to handle select cases of excessive and deadly force, or do you support continued reliance on local state’s attorneys to handle these delicate cases?
5. FINES AND FEES: In 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court commissioned the Statutory Court Fee Task Force, which made findings and recommendations to address the issue of fines and fees in court proceedings. The 15-member Task Force included active and retired judges, court clerks, a Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, members of the private bar and elected officials from both political parties.
The Task Force found that assessments imposed on individuals in both criminal and civil cases create severe and disproportionate impacts on low and moderate-income Illinois residents, and that there is excessive variation for the same types of proceedings across the state.
Do you agree with the findings of the Statutory Court Fee Task Force?
If so, what role will you play in reducing the impact of fines and fees on low and middle-class Illinois residents? How would you accomplish this?
6: GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION: Gun violence in urban areas across the state continues to reach crisis levels. While Illinois has had a vibrant debate on the effectiveness of increasing sentencing for possession of guns by repeat gun offenders, nearly everyone on both sides of that debate agrees that we must do more than increase criminal sentencing penalties to see significant safety improvements.
Stemming the tide of illegal guns into victimized communities is commonly identified as a key priority in stopping gun violence. A closer examination of urban gun violence reveals that many young men and boys on the path to violence have themselves been victims. The lines continue to blur between perpetrator and victim in the urban gun violence context.
As Attorney General, what would you do to improve our state’s efforts in preventing gun violence? What would you do differently from the current Attorney General to stem the flow of illegal guns into communities hit hard by gun violence?
Given that the Attorney General’s Office is a major stakeholder in supporting crime victims and that, in the past, support has largely gone to a non-diverse set of victims of crime, how might you as Attorney General support broadening the idea of who is a crime victim in order to break the cycle of violence?
7. SENTENCING RETROACTIVITY: In his first month in office in 2015, Governor Bruce Rauner issued an executive order creating the bi-partisan Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, which is comprised of leaders from the law enforcement, public service, academia and the General Assembly. The Commission was directed to reduce Illinois prison population 25% by 2025 and delivered 27 actionable recommendations.
With an Illinois prison population still over 42,500 people, many advocates argue that reforms that seek to achieve serious reductions to prison population must include both changes to sentencing law that effect the pipeline of those coming in, but also must explore retroactive reductions in sentences for those already in prison. Many of these individuals were sentenced under now abandoned, so-called “tough-on-crime” policies that have been rejected by the modern approach to criminal justice and that the “tough-on-crime” policies produced detrimental social and safety outcomes.
Despite a diverse group of states such as Louisiana, Colorado and Maryland passing retroactive sentencing reforms in the past few years, the current Attorney General has declined opining on their legality in Illinois, which has blocked legislative retroactive sentencing reforms.
Do you agree with the need to achieve the goal of reducing the prison population 25% by 2025 as outlined by the Governor and his commission? How can this reduction be achieved safely?
What is your opinion on the legality of retroactive sentencing reforms?
The Illinois Criminal Code defines the responsibility of the Attorney General to include giving legal or constitutional opinions on issues relating to criminal law. If elected, would you be willing to issue an official legal opinion supporting the legality of passing laws which address retroactive sentencing?