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?
I will prioritize criminal justice reform as Attorney General because Illinois needs a system that reduces recidivism rates, thereby keeping communities safer; promotes human dignity; and makes better use of government resources, which currently are being squandered on a broken system and failed policies. For the past eleven years, I have served on the board of directors of Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest outreach to inmates and their families. In that capacity, I have done prison ministry, advocated for bipartisan criminal justice reform measures, raised awareness of the unique challenges facing children of incarcerated parents, and made visits to prisons throughout the country to help assess vocational and educational programming opportunities for inmates. Prison Fellowship recently has launched an innovative Warden’s Exchange program, instituted national Second Chance Month to highlight the need for restorative opportunities for those with a criminal record, and launched reentry initiatives throughout the country. Accordingly, as Attorney General I will promote a more restorative approach to Illinois’ criminal justice system in order to help provide non-violent offenders with more diversion-based alternatives to incarceration, opportunities for rehabilitation, and the tools necessary to rebuild their lives following their release from prison.
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.
As Attorney General, I would be a more vigorous and visible advocate of justice reform, promoting the expansion of problem-solving courts (including drug courts and mental health courts), the streamlining and enhancement of reentry services, and greater access to expungement services.
2. BOND REFORM: On any given day, tens of thousands of people are incarcerated in Illinois county jails. Most of these people are being detained while awaiting trial —meaning they have not been convicted of a crime and are only being held because they don’t have the money to post bond. 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?
I agree that the traditional use of cash bonds in Illinois has resulted in many people being incarcerated in a pre-trial setting who were neither a risk to others nor a flight risk. Rather, they simply could not afford the bond that was set and therefore remained incarcerated on account of poverty. While I do not support the traditional system, given the Illinois Attorney General’s obligation to defend Illinois laws when they are challenged on Constitutional grounds, I would be statutorily obligated to defend the State in this case, regardless of my opinion on the system’s merits.
If elected, what would you do to help improve bond court practice and outcomes across the state?
Reforming Illinois’ bond system is a priority because of the ways in which the current system perpetuates existing inequities and disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations. A key factor in helping to ensure that any reforms that are enacted actually are put into practice is addressing the resource deficits that exist in certain counties throughout Illinois. I have been speaking to various States Attorneys regarding reforming bond court practice and have been advised that certain counties simply do not have sufficient personnel to be able to comply with various aspects of the reforms. Accordingly, I would advocate that the General Assembly appropriate additional resources to help those counties better comply with the Bond Reform Act of 2017 and would attempt to work with the Illinois States Attorneys Association to formulate methods by which counties can better leverage technology and existing resources in order to achieve full compliance.
3. RECORD 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?
I would encourage counties to follow Champaign County’s approach and have an Expungement and Record Sealing Summit at least once a year. At these summits, spearheaded by the Circuit Clerk’s Office (and in partnership with local officials, social service agencies and churches), local lawyers volunteer to assist individuals with completing and filing expungement applications and answer questions regarding the process. The Circuit Clerk’s Office also waives the filing fees for all applications filed that day. This approach has been extremely successful in Champaign County and promotes cooperation among government entities and lawyers as they work collaboratively to bridge the justice gap.
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?
I would explore class action options for pursuing legal remedies against private companies that continue to provide employers with information regarding criminal records that already have been expunged or sealed.
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 office s 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?
I would maintain the Attorney General’s role as Plaintiff in the case and support a consent decree. Measures that should be included in the consent decree include: adoption of additional officer training methods for avoiding the unnecessary use of force; collection, analysis and publishing of additional data regarding policing efforts; enhancement of the Employee Assistance program to better enable officers to address issues of post traumatic stress disorder, mental health and wellness; and implementation of specific community policing goals and timelines for achieving them. The oversight of a federal judge and the appointment of an independent monitor will help ensure that the relevant stakeholders are represented, help minimize the influence of political interests, and help create a structured process and timeline for instituting necessary reforms. While the entry of a consent decree will not be a panacea, it will offer a constructive way forward in reforming the Chicago Police Department, protecting Chicagoans’ safety and security, enhancing community policing efforts, equipping police officers with the tools necessary to meet their responsibilities, and upholding Constitutional rights and civil liberties.
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?
While it has been encouraging to see some reforms instituted following the release of the Department of Justice’s Report, the consent decree is still needed in order to ensure that such reforms are binding and to set benchmarks and timelines for the adoption and implementation of additional necessary reforms.
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?
In sensitive cases of excessive and deadly force, it is appropriate for a special prosecutor to be appointed if the local state’s attorney has a conflict of interest (or a perception thereof exists) or if more widespread or systemic misconduct is suspected in connection with the case. The Judge should have the discretion to appoint the special prosecutor he or she believes will have the independence and credibility necessary to gain the public’s trust in a fair outcome, and potential special prosecutors should not be limited to prosecutors within the Attorney General’s Office, as the widest net possible should be cast.
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?
I agree with the Task Force’s findings that: (1) “The nature and purpose of assessments have changed over time, leading to a byzantine system that attempts to pass an increased share of the cost of court administration onto the parties to court proceedings;” (2) “Court fines and fees are constantly increasing and outpacing inflation;” (3) “There is excessive variation across the state in the amount of assessments for the same type of proceedings;” and (4) “The cumulative impact of the assessments imposed on parties to civil lawsuits and defendants in criminal and traffic proceedings imposes severe and disproportionate impacts on low- and moderate-income Illinois residents.”
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?
I will support the Task Force’s five core principles and advocate for the General Assembly and/or the Illinois Supreme Court to codify reforms with respect to: (1) the Role of Assessments in Funding the Courts; (2) the Relationship between Assessments and Access to the Courts; (3) Transparency and Uniformity; (4) the Relationship between Assessments and their Underlying Rationale; and (5) Periodic Review.
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?
My approach to preventing gun violence would be determined by the type of gun violence being addressed (i.e., violence within schools, gang-related violence, domestic violence, etc.), as it is essential to adopt policies and reforms that are driven by best practices specific to the particular type of violence being targeted. I would support: (1) the allocation of additional resources to law enforcement to enhance their community policing efforts; (2) the creation of additional after school programs and job opportunities for young people in communities affected by violence; (3) the allocation of additional resources to fund social workers who serve as violence interrupters in communities affected by violence; (4) the implementation of violence prevention programs within schools; (5) proper enforcement of Illinois laws pertaining to possession of guns by those who pose a “clear and present danger” and those who are the subject of protective orders; and (6) restrictions on bump stocks. Additionally, I will continue to review all options available to the Office of the Attorney General to help combat violence in Illinois.
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?
As someone who has been the victim of harassment and understands the feeling of being powerless, I am dedicated to fighting for those who need a champion and broadening the scope of those who receive support from the Attorney General through the crime victims services division. One specific category of individuals to whom this concept applies is victims of harassment in schools, as unchecked harassment is a contributor to violence within schools.
I have been a national advocate for measures to protect students from harassment in schools, speaking to more than 100,000 students about the consequences of bullying and discussing peer-to-peer harassment on numerous television shows, including Good Morning America, The Today Show, CNN Headline News, and PBS’s Emmy award-winning teen series In The Mix. I also have delivered presentations to school administrators, legislators, teachers and parents regarding the best practices for protecting students from bullying. In recognition of this advocacy, I was named one of Fight Crime, Invest in Kids’ “Champions for Children” and received a leadership award from the National Center for Victims of Crime. As Attorney General, I will continue to work to protect students from cyberbullying and harassment in schools, mobilizing students to stand up against bullying, advising parents regarding warning signs of bullying, and ensuring that schools have adopted and implemented anti-bullying policies.
7. SENTENCING RETROACTIVITY: In his first month in office in 2015, Governor Bruce Rauner issued an executive order creating the bipartisan 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 affect 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?
I agree with the goal of reducing the prison population 25% by 2025. This reduction can be achieved safely by expanding the use of problem-solving courts (including drug courts and mental health courts), providing educational and vocational opportunities to those who are incarcerated, streamlining and enhancing reentry services (including mental health services, access to affordable housing and transportation, job-training services, and assistance in securing employment), and ensuring that sentencing reforms enacted by the General Assembly are applied retroactively when appropriate.
What is your opinion on the legality of retroactive sentencing reforms?
If the General Assembly expressly provides that a specified sentencing reform is to be applied retroactively and then outlines a process and set of criteria by which an incarcerated person may apply for and be evaluated by a judge for such retroactive application, then a Court likely would find retroactive sentencing reforms—both on their face and as-applied—to be Constitutional.
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?
If either branch of the General Assembly (or any committee thereof) requests an opinion regarding the constitutionality of potential retroactive sentencing reforms, then I would issue such an opinion. Moreover, I would be willing to work with the General Assembly to draft retroactive sentencing reform legislation that would be more likely to be upheld as Constitutional.