Illinois Justice Project

Answers: Chris Kennedy

Chris Kennedy Questionnaire Answers

 
  Chris Kennedy

Chris Kennedy

1.     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?

a) What should Illinois do to crack down on the flow of illegal guns into our neighborhoods?

 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.

 b) 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?

 Police Effectiveness: 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.

 Interventions for At-Risk Individuals: 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.

 Helping Victims of Violence/Offenders and Improving Community Renewal: 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.

 

2.     DRUG OFFENSES: Recently, particularly in the light of the opioid epidemic, the issue of substance abuse has been begun to be recast as a public health issue, prompting calls for sentencing reform and treatment.

If you are elected, how would you address the opioid epidemic? How will you ensure equitable use of federal and state opioid-related and other substance abuse funding in suburban, rural and urban areas of the state will be based upon demonstrated needs?

Through the 80s and 90s, the crack epidemic hit hard across the U.S., particularly in major cities. We witnessed the deteriorating effects that resulted from government inaction as crime rates and poverty rates rose in correlation with the presence of crack cocaine. We cannot repeat the mistakes of our past by failing to address what has become a new epidemic in the modern day - opioid addiction and abuse.

Drug abuse is an illness and should be treated as such through our public health system. We cannot marginalize or condemn those who choose to abuse dangerous drugs when we’ve done nothing to steer them away from continued abuse. I would work to reform drug sentencing so as to treat the possession of small amounts of drugs as a misdemeanor and decrease sentences for drug offenses by one or more felony class while repealing mandatory minimum sentences.

 Opioid abuse is on the rise in Illinois. Between 2008 to 2014, deaths resulting from opioid abuse nearly tripled in Illinois. To prevent these deaths, there are three key areas we need to address 1) equipping our law enforcement with training and guidance 2) providing abusers with treatment within their communities and in our jails and 3) preventing a new generation from becoming opioid users.

 The first thing I would do to improve how we address our opioid crisis is equip our law enforcement with training to identify clear signs of opioid abuse and administer an antidote (i.e. naloxone). We need to make law enforcement able to readily address extreme instances where an overdose is possible and medical professionals are not immediately available.

 Second, I would address the underlying issues that contribute to a vicious cycle of addiction through expanded mental health services and I would address drug abuse through treatment and recovery programs. According to NAMI, nearly 40% of Illinois residents age 18 or older have reported poor mental health, 16% are reported as living with mental illness and around 3.5% are living with a severe mental illness. That’s more than half our population who identify as needing mental health support. Those struggling with their mental health are more vulnerable to drug use and abuse as well as crime. We know that Cook County Jail has become Illinois’s largest mental health provider. We need to provide more mental health care services within our communities rather than in our jails or through institutional care. In Illinois, we have favored institutional care over lower-cost community care facilities, which has resulted in 10% of Medicaid behavioral health members accounting for up to 70% of all Medicaid behavioral health spending. I would charge our Department of Health to do a full audit of services and determine a plan to maximize our state resources so as to expand locally based mental health services.

 I would also borrow from the practices of other places in the country where they are effectively keeping low-level drug offenders out of jail and in treatment toward a more productive, safer future, such as Buffalo, New York, which has started a dedicated opioid court where addicts with criminal charges can sign up for treatment instead of jail. Treatment involves one-on-one counseling and group therapy, regular drug testing, and curfews. The program is young, having

operated less than a year to date, but among their about 140 participants, only 4 have fallen out of the program. We should look to models like this to redirect the resources we spend on housing drug abusers and low-level criminal offenders away from our jail system and into therapeutic, recovery support services.

 Lastly, I recognize that painkillers are a gateway drug to more dangerous opioids, including heroin. We need to assist doctors and hospitals from avoiding opioids prescriptions for chronic pain except in necessary circumstances. I will support expanding access to alternative pain treatments including broadening access to medical marijuana under the guidance of medical professionals and adopting holistic therapy practices across all hospitals.

 Increasing opioid abuse is a nationwide epidemic and it should be met with significant federal resources. I will stand together with other governors across the country to call for a federal investment through our Department of Human Services and the Department of Justice. Regardless of federal resource, here in Illinois, I will maximize our public health and criminal justice funding, moving resources away from convicting addicts and housing low-level drug offenders in our jails and steer more dollars toward addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery.

 

3.     SENSIBLE SENTENCING LAWS: 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 composed of leaders from law enforcement, public service, academia, and the General Assembly. The executive order directed the Commission “to develop comprehensive, evidence-based strategies to more effectively improve public safety outcomes and reduce Illinois’ prison population by 25% by 2025.” The Commission met for two years and delivered over 20 actionable recommendations. While some progress has been made in implementing them, many have not been turned into law or enacted administratively.

Do you support the goal of the Commission? Do you support the Commission’s recommendations? Are there any recommendations that you would prioritize? Do you have other recommendations to lower the state’s prison population?

Yes, I support all of the Commission’s recommendations to improve our criminal justice system. Among the recommendation that are of prominent importance are pursuing alternatives to imprisonment, as well as commuting low-level sentences and reducing the cost and repercussions of petty theft.

 We should not rely on the costly, and often counter-productive stays in prison when we can pursue common sense alternatives like electronic monitoring for non-violent felons with sentences less than 12 months. Just as I believe in punishing the guilty, so too do I believe in the merits of rehabilitation, and our jails are often the places where low-level criminals become conditioned to pursue a life of crime beyond their sentencing.

 I support limiting automatic sentence enhancements and reducing the minimum sentence authorized for Class X, 1, 2, and 3 felonies. I will immediately institute a review process to commute the cases of incarceration due to low-level offenses like marijuana possession and put in place assistance to expunge the records of these ex-offenders.

 I further support increasing the threshold for being charged with felony for property crime (like shoplifting). Currently, the value of property lost or damages that results in this extreme charge is $300. That is extremely low compared to a number of other states, where the threshold for this same outcome is close to around $2,500. That’s a huge discrepancy and results in a disproportionately high volume of people who are in our prison system for a relatively petty act. I believe we should also remove penalty enhancements that raise misdemeanor charges to felonies if the person has had a prior conviction. We should identify the behavior, the circumstances of the offense, and assign appropriate charges. These are common sense reforms that benefit everyone.

 

4.     REDEPLOY ILLINOIS: Since the project began in 2005, the Redeploy Illinois program for juveniles has incentivized local jurisdictions to divert Illinois youth from the state youth prison system and has helped provide local programming that has been more successful at treating the problems that have contributed to criminal behavior. Nearly 2,500 youth have been diverted from prison over the past nine years. These diversions have helped allow the state to close three juvenile prisons and avoid more than $15 million in spending in a single year. Because of the success of the juvenile Redeploy program, Adult Redeploy Illinois was created in 2010 and has diverted more than 2,500 adults and resulted in cost avoidance of $75 million.

Do you support the expansion of these Redeploy Illinois programs? Are there other programs that you support that would improve both the scope and effectiveness of diversion programs?

Yes, I fully support Redeploy Illinois and I would increase our investment in such a successful program. Beyond Redeploy Illinois, I would support the expansion of services identified by the community itself to help address the impacts of violence or lack of opportunity, including through programs such as the work of the Safer Foundation, A Safe Haven and in instances where there is proven track record of success, Ceasefire.

 The best diversion efforts that reduce criminal behavior are having well resourced schools with extended day and summer programs, small business investments, and larger scale economic development projects prevalent within our at-risk communities. A great education and good job opportunities are among the most effective opportunities that will help disrupt the cycle of crime or violence before it begins. Beyond such investments, it is most critical that the affected communities themselves have the support and assistance from their local and state governments to identify the programs that will be most relevant and impactful for their communities.

 

5.     CASH BOND: Although presumed innocent before trial, thousands of men and women across Illinois are sitting in jail solely because they cannot afford to pay the bail set by a circuit court judge. Recent reform-- including the Bail Reform Act of 2017 passed by the 100th General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Rauner and local efforts in Cook County initiated by both the Chief Judge and the State’s Attorney of Cook County – have not eliminated the use of cash bond. The financial and family consequences facing low-income people in jail are enormous. Some innocent people will languish for years in jail until trial and then are released; others will plead guilty because they want to return to their homes as quickly as possible to keep their lives on track. Some Illinois courts keep up to 10% of all bonds – even when a person is found not guilty or charges have been dropped – and have become dependent on the bond system.

How would you reform the Illinois bond system?

We have to do away with cash bail. Our cash bail requirements can lead to complete and utter derailment for vast majority of offenders who are low-income. If you make a minimum wage, are put in jail and can’t make bail, you could miss work and lose your job, making it incredibly difficult to get a new jobs now that you have a record. Sixty-two percent of people in the Cook County Jail system are there simply because they cannot afford to pay their bail. They are not in jail because they pose a risk to the community, they are there because they are poor.

 Meanwhile, gang members do have the ability to come up with the cash, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. This broken system allows violent offenders to return to the streets within hours while poor, non-violent offenders are kept in prison for months, sometimes serving more time pretrial than their ultimate sentences require. This is wrong. These resources should be put towards diversion and anti-violence initiatives instead of paying to keep poor, nonviolent offenders incarcerated.

 We need to reduce the influence of money in how someone is treated in our criminal justice system. That’s why I support ending cash bail, reducing mandatory fines, reducing court fees, reduce surcharges, such as those proposed in HB 2591, and I support allowing nonviolent offenders to have access to electronic monitoring. We know that there is abhorrent variation across the state in the amount of fees and fines for the same type of proceedings. We should further work with the Illinois Supreme Court and our local government to identify best practices from around the state in reducing wait times and negative repercussions on low-level, nonviolent offenders due to our bail system.

 

6.     DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE: Over 10 years ago, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) was created as a stand-alone agency separate from the Illinois Department of Corrections, and the new IDJJ was directed to emphasize rehabilitation of youth rather than only punishment. Through a variety of legislative and administrative actions, the state’s youth prison population has been reduced from an average of 1,200 to under 400 youth today. This has resulted in the closing of three youth prisons. IDJJ now houses the remaining 400 youth in five prisons operating at less than half of capacity.

Should some of the existing underpopulated prisons be closed? Does the state do enough to keep youth out of prison and rehabilitate those sent to state prisons? How would you improve the juvenile justice system? How would you measure the success of DJJ and its aftercare programs?

Should some of the existing underpopulated prisons be closed?: Our assessment of whether to close youth prisons should include several considerations. Among these considerations, we should ensure that facilities are reserved for only the most serious and high risk offenders and we should divert other youth to more effective community-based programs. We should also ensure that we are providing quality, individualized, rehabilitative programming. That said, I commend recent efforts by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) to move toward smaller, regional centers as a safer and more effective rehabilitation model. This focus will help us to ensure that our youth are not funneled into large, underpopulated facilities such as IYC-Kewanee before it was eventually closed.

 Does the state do enough to keep youth out of prison and rehabilitate those sent to state prisons?: IDJJ has been part of a national trend to keep youth out of prison facilities. Since FY00, the average daily population in the youth prison facilities has decreased from approximately 2200 to 500. Unfortunately, IDJJ has not done as well with rehabilitating youth who have entered their facilities. The recidivism rate—youth who return to IDJJ within three years--hovers at an abysmal 60%. Although this high percentage may be attributable to an increased focus of incarcerating those youth with the highest needs, the state must put more attention to rehabilitation.

 How would you improve the juvenile justice system?: I would devote more resources to lower recidivism by improving the continuity of services for youth released from custody, especially mental health services. According to IDJJ, more than 60% of youth in IDJJ facilities receive monthly individual mental health services. However, when they return to the community, many of have trouble accessing support, including mental health services, financial support, and enrollment in school. This continuity of services would help facilitate their rehabilitation and likely reduce subsequent law violating behavior.

 How would you measure the success of DJJ and its aftercare programs?: Over the last few years, IDJJ has made strides. I attribute much of this progress to the efforts of juvenile justice advocates. For example, the ALCU’s 2012 lawsuit and subsequent consent decree to ensure that IDJJ provides basic education, mental health, and safety should be applauded. For too long, we have been sending our youth back into the community worse off than when they received them.  Aftercare has also made great progress in improving probation services, but the program is still young and more work remains to be done. The program must do better to ensure that youth receive the placements, services, and support they need. I commend the recent effort to establish day reporting centers to provide community-based graduated sanctions rather than simply returning youth to prison. But the state needs to evaluate the success of these efforts and take the successful models to scale.

7.     DISPROPORTIONATE MINORITY CONTACT: The term Disproportionate Minority Contact refers to the disproportionately high percentage of minorities in the criminal justice system in proportion to the general population. For example, rates of marijuana use by youth are similar across all racial and ethnic groups, but African-American youth, who make up 42% of Chicago’s youth population (ages 10-17), account for 79% of juvenile marijuana arrests in Chicago. Unfortunately, the disproportionate minority contact phenomenon is not limited to just marijuana arrests and spans across the entire criminal justice system.

How would you reduce or eliminate disproportionate minority contact in the Illinois justice system?

Systemic racism, poverty, and segregation all play a role in the disproportionate number of people of color who are incarcerated. The highest poverty neighborhoods in Chicago are also the most segregated and the most crime-ridden in the city. Racism, unfortunately, is omnipresent. It’s a factor when people of color are gentrified out of thriving neighborhoods and into new ones with little-to-no economic development, job scarcity, and food deserts. Racism is also there when people of color are arrested at higher rates and incarcerated for longer sentences than their white counterparts.

 Throughout Illinois, 50% of prisoners are sent back to prison within three years of being released. The cycle often starts with school-based arrests, which results in a disproportionate number of students of color and students living with a disability ending up in the juvenile justice system. Not surprisingly, there tend to be more diversion programs in predominantly white suburban neighborhoods, such as Oak Park's FACE-IT program in which youth with drug offenses are referred by law enforcement and the school districts.

 A critical intercept point is the referral made by law enforcement to alternative programs, but in communities of color there are very few diversion programs to refer youth to that do not involve the criminal justice system. We need to embed such programs in our schools that are populated predominantly with students of color, especially when they are located in communities with high rates of crime and violence. Our schools with disproportionately high-risk student populations need youth interventionists working together with local law enforcement to divert them away from the criminal justice system, and we need to provide them and their families with supportive programming to address the causes that lead them into disciplinary action.

 The cycle of incarceration and crime are strongest in our high poverty neighborhoods like Chicago’s West Side, where 70% of men between ages 18-54 have been subject to the criminal justice system. Instead of investing in neighborhoods and investing in education, we’re investing in an incarceration system that only perpetuates more crime. For example, a 2015 study called “Million Dollar Blocks” found that the Illinois Department of Corrections spent more than $1 million incarcerating individuals from one single block in Chicago’s Austin community. Indeed, the State spent $550 million incarcerating individuals just in the Austin community. That amount of investment in economic growth or workforce training could transform the lives of individuals in a community that receives more returning citizens than any other community in the State.

 Making our criminal justice system more equitable will be a long road that involves addressing multiple challenges. Within the system, we must improve officer training, including implicit/unconscious bias training in addition to reforming the police department and the bail bond system. However, we also have to recognize that highly segregated, highly concentrated poverty will continue to create the breeding grounds for violence, and if we don’t make our society more equitable, our criminal justice system will continue to perpetuate the inequality that has a chokehold across our cities and on our state.

We should make our government and our law enforcement knowledgeable in explicit terms about the biases and discrimination that influence our criminal justice system. I support producing a regular report, at least annually, to cross compare similar cases in which white and nonwhite offenders are convicted of the same crime. The study would provide details involving the circumstances of arrest, outcome of convictions, and relevant as well as available socioeconomic data characterizing the offenders. Such reporting and data, which should be shared with the public, can allow for better training, understanding of biases, and inform behaviors and protocols needed to remedy racially biased factors that feed into disproportionate minority contact in the Illinois justice system.

 

8.     RE-ENTRY: Each year over 30,000 Illinois residents are released from the Illinois Department of Corrections, with nearly all returning to the same economically depressed communities in which they resided before their incarceration. Now over one million Illinoisans have some form of criminal record, which routinely interferes with one’s ability to take advantage of employment, housing and educational opportunities. That lack of access can create social and economic circumstances that result in illegal behavior. Consequently, nearly 50% of individuals released from Illinois Department of Corrections return to prison within three years, and fewer than 2% of the 425,000 individuals released between 1999 and 2015 have obtained and held a taxpaying job for two consecutive years after their release. Improving employment outcomes for people with criminal records through employment training and job assistance outside of prisons in the community is one of the most successful methods of improving the reentry of returning citizens to their communities and reducing recidivism.

How can the State of Illinois remove barriers in housing, education and employment for previously incarcerated individuals and reduce the recidivism rate? What programs would you support? Would you invest in skills training, re-entry services, and transportation for people with records to reduce unemployment, violence and poverty?

In Illinois, there are successful programs for assisting returning citizens in reentering civilian life while reducing their risk of re-entering the criminal justice system. Programs like Redeploy Illinois, Safer Foundation, and A Safe Haven. In my Department of Corrections, I will appoint a dedicated advisor to coordinate our philanthropic, nonprofit, and public services into comprehensive rehabilitation program for our prison population.

 Our Illinois Department of Correction has made significant strides in conducting risk evaluation. We can identify a significant number of offenders within our prison population who do not pose a significant risk to our communities. If we consider someone who we expect to jail for 35+ years but poses no significant threat, there is a clear argument toward redirecting those resources toward restorative justice. Cook County Jails alone went from 11,000 inmates to 7,350, and they believe they can drive down their population even further, and we should help them do so if we want to build on this progress.

Bail reform is key to driving down our jail population. Only 3-4% of arrested actually go to jail, the rest sit around waiting to get tried. But for the population that does, we can successfully move ex-offenders away from our criminal justice system to civilian life if we train them for employment, set them up with a job, assist them with affordable housing and enroll them in healthcare.

 For those offenders who enter into our jails, we should have in place rehabilitation programs that prepare them to leave prison and become productive citizens. As I’ve mentioned before, I believe our Department of Corrections is not so much about correcting bad behavior, but about correcting our broken social safety net. Our prisons need to have in place mental health services, social and emotional learning programs, basic education courses, and certification and job training programs.

For those who successfully leave our prison system, we should have a pipeline ready for them that guides them toward housing, employment and healthcare. We can build on the great work of organizations and programs like CTA’s Second Chance, Faith in Place, Safer Foundation and Safe Haven to expand their good work into an instituted and systematic program across our jail system. Additionally, the state of Illinois has thousands of contractors. We can work with our contractors to identify a set aside of employment roles for ex-offenders and enroll them in Medicaid if employer health care isn’t available. In terms of housing, we need to build more affordable housing. For developers who receive state aid, we should trade public assistance invested in the developments for affordable rental units made available to ex-offenders who need assistance after leaving jail. We also need to lighten our regulations, which inhibit ex-offenders from staying in our public housing developments.

 We should update our thinking from 100 years ago. Just as Frederick Douglas said, it’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.