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?
The Illinois Attorney General is in a unique position to combine championing criminal justice with statewide stewardship of a strong and effective system. The Attorney General’s voice should be heard in all statewide discussion of core criminal justice issues.
The administration of justice requires the Attorney General and her agents to apply the law ethically and with compassion for every accused person's unique story and circumstances. As such, the Attorney General has a duty to actively seek new and innovative methods to better and more equitably administer justice. The Attorney General should support and promote efforts to reform the criminal justice system so that every Illinois resident can effectively exercise their Constitutionally protected rights and have their day in court. It is critical that recidivism is reduced and comprehensive re-entry be prioritized.
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.
State statute gives the Illinois Attorney General a unique role in regard to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA), a vital but often overlooked stakeholder in the Illinois criminal justice system. ICJIA distributes millions of dollars in federal funds every year. The funds support policing and victim services, among other major initiatives. The Attorney General is allowed to vote on the distribution of this vital money via a designate.
As Attorney General I would attend ICJIA meetings and/or appoint a designee to advocate for extending victim services to youthful victims of violence. This approach would increase services and assistance particularly for young male teenagers of color. It would offer an opportunity to break the cycle of violence.
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.
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 with the Holder memo which is supported by numerous studies and even more importantly, by the experience of jurisdictions that have moved away from cash bonds. There is no evidence that detaining defendants, facing non-violent charges, who can not pay cash bonds improves public safety. There is mounting evidence that even brief periods of pre-trial detention seriously harms people who are economically vulnerable. Racial bias is too often evident in the pattern of pre-trial detention.
If elected, what would you do to help improve bond court practice and outcomes across the state?
As Attorney General, I would actively support ending the use of cash bonds. It is important to recognize that Illinois law clearly states that cash bonds, if used, should be a last resort. The routine use of counter-productive cash bonds violates existing Illinois law and, as Attorney General, I would not defend this illegal practice.
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?
As Attorney General, I would support adequate funding for outreach and implementation. I would focus on the newly expanded opportunities for juvenile record expungement and would advocate for a similar expansion on behalf of adult offenders who merit a second chance. In addition, I would ensure that state license requirements do not create unnecessary obstacles in the path to employment, housing and self sufficiency.
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?
In addition to supporting records relief, the Attorney General’s Consumer Fraud division should target and prosecute ‘fly by night’ website developers who provide harmful and inaccurate information about people who have been arrested. Private lawyers may not pursue these businesses because they change hands, names, and corporate structure frequently to evade being held accountable for the harm that they cause to employment seekers. In particular, the recent legislation expanding juvenile record expungement creates a cause of action for illegal data sharing that should be used to protect our young people as they seek scholarships and employment opportunities.
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?
By obtaining an enforceable consent decree, we can start taking critical steps to address the problems identified in the Department of Justice Report, and begin improving the community’s trust in the Police Department while enhancing public safety. An effective result will be respecting the public’s rights and safety, while ensuring the necessary resources and support to those who place their lives on the line every day. With defined timelines, financial commitments, clear metrics and expected outcomes, the community and the Police Department will benefit and we will be on the path to a safer community for all.
As Attorney General, my office will stand ready to support reform as necessary including participation in litigation as appropriate.
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?
No. Reform of the police and building community trust is a long-term effort. Any personnel should be devoted to the work, fully engaged, and subject to scrutiny for years to come.
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?
There should be a coordinated effort to achieve justice and efficiencies. The Attorney General must support and promote safe communities under the rule of law. In practice, the Attorney General must weigh the concerns and interests of those officers empowered to enforce laws with those protected and affected community members. However, the Office of the Attorney General is in a unique position to accomplish this as a statewide elected official. The Attorney General has the authority to wield the levers of State authority to question, listen, and act to make policing safer, fairer, and more harmonious. Therefore, the Attorney General has the opportunity to, and should, consider all viewpoints, which inform and influence how she chooses to administer the laws of this state.
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 do agree with the findings. This area requires the same scrutiny as cash bond reform. We have to reduce the burden on the poor and most vulnerable. Costs can be reduced through better use of technology. For example, expensive failures to appear can be reduced by using an automated court reminder system. It is better and cheaper to pay for a text message to a defendant than pay for a warrant to issue or worse for detention. We can also find new sources of revenue. People on probation in Cook County are no longer asked to pay for the cost of substance abuse treatment, now covered by County Care under the expansion of Medicaid.
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?
The Attorney General should work to uphold and protect every person's right to a day in court. As one of the foremost officers of the court, the Attorney General is uniquely suited to influence and promote better and more efficient methods to administer justice both substantively and procedurally, that includes the need to reduce fines/fees so that we do not criminalize poverty to benefit the financial bottom line of the criminal justice system.
The Attorney General should wield the authority of the office to work with those in both the legal and legal services communities to develop and discover new and innovative methods to make the state court system more efficient. We have allowed new fines and fees to be imposed without considering their cumulative impact. The Attorney General should study how some jurisdictions have achieved savings that can help reduce costs. Electronic filing and interactive court forms are great first steps. As an elected official, the Attorney General can also leverage the office to support and promote access to justice and legal aid groups who assist litigants to prevent the accumulation of legal fees and fines in the first place.
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?
As elected representatives, it is our collective responsibility to do everything we can to stop the carnage. As a Mayor, I led the charge in banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines in my city. We were taken to the US Supreme Court by the NRA and prevailed. Unfortunately, due to the way the related Illinois law was drafted, with a ten-day window for action, other Illinois cities cannot exercise their constitutional right to ban these weapons. I would advocate for the law to be changed to reflect the rights of Illinois cities to consider such a ban. In addition, other common sense steps need to be taken to reduce gun violence and protect our communities. The time is long past due for closing gun show loopholes and requiring universal background checks, banning bump stocks, tighter regulation of gun dealers, and safe storage in homes. Gun dealer licensing needs to be required to shut down the handful of “bad apple” gun dealers who allow straw purchasers to flood our communities with crime guns. We may also need to consider legal action against border states with weak gun laws that allow gun traffickers to sell guns to people who otherwise would not be qualified to legally own a gun. One piece of legislation is not going to prevent every gun violence tragedy, but with courageous leadership, we can take steps to protect lives.
In addition, as Attorney General, I would join Democratic attorneys general in calling on Congress to abandon legislation backed by the NRA that would allow concealed-carry gun permits issued in one state to be valid in all states. We need common sense federal and state action to reduce gun violence and associated grief.
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?
Years of uncoordinated legislation have created a morass of confusing and even conflicting sentence minimums and enhancements that have unintended consequences. The Attorney General must work closely with the Sentencing Policy Advisory Commission on policy questions and with the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority on funding decisions. The Attorney General has to look for criminal justice solutions that break the cycle of violence by extending trauma treatment to those who are both victims and perpetrators. The harsh truth is that particularly in communities of color, emerging adults at risk of committing crimes are almost always themselves victims of horrible crimes. I am committed to working on the causes of crime as well as responding to the consequences.
We need to change the culture and treat people with respect in a broken system. Far too often, we treat people as numbers and not people. Add in discrimination and harassment by law enforcement, there’s no wonder that there is an ongoing and pervasive problem in the criminal justice system. As Attorney General, I will work to update protections, policies, and practices and stiffen penalties for discrimination, profiling, and harassment.
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?
It is important to understand that although the Illinois Prison population has declined from a high of almost 50,000, we are currently housing a population of over 40,000 in facilities that can only hold 35,000 safely. In addition to the risk of injury to both guards and inmates that presently exists, we are currently unable to provide the services in prisons that would reduce the rate of rearrest and return to prison. At present, 61% of the men and women released from prison are rearrested within three years. It is time to revisit the report of the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing reform.
What is your opinion on the legality of retroactive sentencing reforms?
Most people who are currently in prison will be released. The ones who will never be released would not be included in retroactive sentencing. The question is not will this person be released? It is when and how this person will be released and what happens to them when they are released? Currently, people who are released from prison are older, sicker, and poorer than they were at the time of incarceration. They have little or no positive connections to family and community. On average, an inmate in an Illinois prison is being housed 190 miles from where he or she lives. When released, inmates will return to a small number of very poor and isolated communities.
If a retroactive sentencing proposal is responsible and effective, it can empower us to release people when they are ready for release, help us pay for needed reentry services, and protect vulnerable communities.
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?
Yes, if called upon to do so.