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?
Because of my professional experience as both a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney, along with my concern for low-income communities and communities of color throughout the state ravaged by violent crime and mass incarceration, I made criminal justice reform a touchstone of my legislative career. Bills I have sponsored have addressed exoneration, expungement and sealing, moving juveniles out of adult prisons, alternatives to incarceration for non-violent and first-time offenders, sentencing reform, the abolition of the death penalty, prison conditions and employment opportunities for those with criminal records. I served on the Sentencing Policy Advisory Council and the Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. Over the years, I have built valuable relationships with public officials and organizations working on criminal justice reform, and I have persuaded many of my colleagues in the General Assembly to join the effort to reduce the prison population and the recidivism rate in Illinois. I can use these relationships as Attorney General to work effectively with the General Assembly on further progress toward common-sense criminal justice reform initiatives that make our communities safer and more prosperous.
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.
I would more aggressively exercise the office’s bully pulpit to work for criminal justice reform, expanding on my and my colleagues’ legislative accomplishments. Being able to leverage the relationships I have made both with Illinois lawmakers and advocates and with public officials and others who are working on these issues nationwide will give me a head start on this critical area of focus for me. I will prioritize a holistic approach, as I have done in the General Assembly, measuring success not just in terms of numbers of inmates in the correctional system, but in terms of recidivism rates and the impact on communities, particularly under-resourced, under-invested-in communities of color hit hard by both crime and high rates of incarceration. In particular, my work will emphasize continued development of Illinois’ alternatives to incarceration, as well as enforcing the law on sealing and expungement of records (especially for juvenile ex-offenders and arrestees) and implementing risk-based assessment tools to aid in matching people involved in the criminal justice system with the programs and services that will best help them reintegrate.
Closely linked to criminal justice reform – the other side of the same coin – are two other priority initiatives of mine: improving the office’s distribution of crime victims’ assistance resources by prioritizing the most victimized communities. I have already passed a law to start a pilot trauma center program for those victimized by and exposed to violent crime. Evidence tells us that untreated trauma feeds the cycle of violent crime when violence becomes normalized in a community and victims are disproportionately likely to become the next perpetrators.
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 monetary bail/cash bond system is unjust and ultimately should be abolished in favor of purely risk-based assessments of whether or not an arrestee’s detention while awaiting trial is necessary to the public safety. I support the use of non-monetary options, such as electronic monitoring and substance abuse treatment requirements, in lieu of bond to deter flight and non-appearance. These were elements of the Illinois Bail Reform Act, which I co-sponsored last year, but I believe the General Assembly can and should go farther, gathering the political will to strengthen this policy and eventually abandon the entire monetary bail system. Despite guidelines for judges and the recent leadership of the Cook County State’s Attorney and the Chief Judge, the continued existence of monetary bail as an option invites unconstitutional decisions to impose bail on a person unable to pay, while also contributing to overcrowded jail conditions that are unsafe for detainees and employees alike.
I do not support the decision of the current Attorney General to defend the current system in the course of defending the judges named in the Robinson suit. The 2017 reform law and the order of Chief Judge Timothy Evans are major and positive steps in the right direction, but they do not yet permanently and comprehensively reform bail by removing the monetary element for the indigent awaiting trial. Recent progress in Cook County, while it has relieved overcrowding at the state’s largest county jail, does not change the status quo in other jurisdictions. The issues the plaintiffs raise are not moot; therefore, I would not as Attorney General mount a defense in court on those grounds.
If elected, what would you do to help improve bond court practice and outcomes across the state?
I would work with the plaintiffs in Robinson, the state’s judges and state’s attorneys and the General Assembly to come to a resolution that fully implements the intent behind the Illinois Bail Reform Act. I would also lend my office’s expertise and influence to the effort to develop and deploy an evidence-based risk-based assessment tool as defined in the Act so that all counties have access to the same playbook on pre-trial detention.
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?
Having sponsored legislation to expand sealing of records and also to remove barriers to professional licensure, I remain committed to this journey.
As Attorney General, I will use the office to strongly pursue cases of improper access, use, dissemination and sale of criminal records that have been sealed. My office will stand ready to bring suit against companies that violate Illinois’ expungement and sealing laws, which I am proud to have helped craft during my career in the General Assembly, and employers and landlords that unlawfully discriminate against job applicants with records. It is also important for the Attorney General to seek out partnerships with other states’ attorneys general where a common problem appears in multiple states, as is the case with “records search” companies that may operate across jurisdictional boundaries, and I will explore this option. I will also work with the legislature to continuing honing state law to give second chances to ex-offenders, particularly juveniles who are back on the right path and whose education and job prospects are jeopardized by their records.
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?
Please see the above answer.
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?
Attorney General Lisa Madigan consulted with me prior to filing the suit based on my history of advocating for law enforcement reform.
I strongly support a consent decree and will continue the lawsuit as long as it remains the most effective way of obtaining a strong, enforceable consent decree that holds the Chicago Police Department’s feet to the fire so that genuine, systemic change occurs at CPD. I am deeply disappointed that after the Department of Justice conducted an investigation that clearly identified problematic practices within CPD, the DOJ’s new leadership under the current administration chose to ignore the evidence – in Chicago and other cities – and chose not to work with the police department, the City and, most importantly, members of the communities being policed to promote the appropriate use of force and effective, fair policing. In the absence of substantive DOJ involvement, I believe this lawsuit can produce a consent decree that, in conjunction with recent legislative reforms I sponsored, pushes CPD to adopt reforms that prevent future Laquan McDonalds from falling victim to the consequences of poor training and discipline in law enforcement.
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?
The measures taken by CPD and COPA are a long way from the finish line.
While these personnel changes, partnerships to effect the consent decree and attempts to be more forthright with the community are all welcome, it has become clear that long-term, properly enforced reform is necessary and that we cannot rely on particular individuals or periods of goodwill, but rather must continue pushing to change the pervasive culture and practices of CPD. Such efforts must be more inclusive of affected communities.
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?
The law enforcement reform act I sponsored in 2015 established that the court or any interested party may file a motion alleging that the State’s Attorney has a conflict of interest in any civil or criminal proceeding. Previously, only the court was allowed to replace the State’s Attorney due to his or her interest in the matter before the court. This expands the opportunity for a member of the public with a legal interest in a proceeding related to an officer-involved death to make the case to the judge that the State’s Attorney ought not to prosecute or represent the State due to a conflict. I am open to the involvement of prosecutors from the Office of the Attorney General, but only if sufficient appropriations are available to ensure the presence of staff attorneys adequately trained to handle these sensitive and often highly specialized cases that are of great significance to the communities affected.
The Attorney General’s office also can utilize its Civil Rights Bureau/Unit to pursue civil rights violations that have come at the hand of law enforcement.
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?
Administrative court fees in particular should bear a direct relationship to the individual’s ability to pay. I support the recommendations of the Statutory Court Fee Task Force with respect to developing a sliding scale of fees owed by low-income and middle-income people to supplement the current waiver system for those living below the federal poverty line and with respect to decreasing variation among jurisdictions. As an attorney and a legislator, I have witnessed the ways in which many Illinoisans do not enjoy equal access to our courts and the equal protection of the laws, and I will use my position to speak out against unfair fees that exacerbate socioeconomic inequality instead of transcending it, as the justice system should. I will work with the General Assembly on legislation implementing many of the task force’s recommendations, and I will work with our state’s courts and the Supreme Court to recognize and adopt best practices, greater standardization and above all, public transparency regarding fines and court fees. I will also advocate for reliable, adequate state funding for courts so that our justice system is not so disproportionately dependent on fees paid by the parties who come before them, particularly low-income and middle-income individuals. When the wheels of justice in Illinois nearly ground to a halt as court reporter pay fell victim to the budget impasse pending supplemental appropriation, the fragility of state support for courts was laid bare. As Attorney General, I will be a voice for a better way, one that asks large corporations and wealthy individuals to pay their fair share and avoids burdening lower-income people who need access to justice.
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?
I would use the Attorney General’s bully pulpit to call for policies that target gun trafficking, and I would follow the lead of New York’s attorney general, who used firearm tracing data obtained from federal law enforcement to learn more about the pipeline by which guns were entering that state from other states and being sold for use in crimes. We already know that a large minority of guns used in crimes in Illinois are trafficked across state lines rather than originally being purchased in-state, where gun regulations are stricter than in several of Illinois’ neighbors. While many are focused on assault weapons, and while I do support banning these types of firearms, it is important to note that the vast majority of crimes are committed using other kinds of guns, including handguns; trafficking, not just bans, must be part of the violence reduction strategy.
We cannot solve the problem of gun violence and illegally obtained guns alone; Illinois must engage with local and federal authorities and with other states to trace guns, cut off pipelines of illicit trafficking and hold accountable those who are intentionally trafficking guns to individuals not authorized to possess them.
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?
Crime victim assistance dollars must be distributed in an evidence-based manner so as to benefit the people, populations and communities most profoundly affected by the trauma of violent crime. Addressing the equity and effectiveness of crime victims’ resource allocation will be one of my first and primary priorities as Attorney General.
By ushering resources to the communities most traumatized by the epidemic of violent crimes, we can interrupt the cycle that normalizes violence and can lead to victims becoming retaliatory offenders.
I will also bring to fruition the pilot trauma center program I pushed for in the General Assembly in order to address the trauma stemming from the violent crime that ravages already under-resourced communities. I believe we must follow where the evidence on untreated trauma leads and establish policies that do not merely respond to gun violence, but prevent it by addressing its underlying causes.
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?
Yes, and it can be achieved only through a data-driven focus on identifying those incarcerated who are most likely to succeed in the community and not re-offend, and the on providing them with the assistance most likely to help them achieve this goal. This will require a budgetary commitment and a wholesale change in approach; state government cannot continue to view a decrease in prison population primarily as a cost-saving measure, at least in the short term, because reducing the total cost of correctional facilities and programs will only backfire – to the detriment of public safety – if the recidivism rate climbs through an inattention to community reentry services.
What is your opinion on the legality of retroactive sentencing reforms?
There are many potential approaches to sentencing reform (e.g., removal of mandatory minimums, changes in sentencing ranges or guidelines and changes to parole eligibility or guidelines among others), and addressing the legality and constitutionality of each approach if applied retroactively would require a thorough analysis and review of case law. I support the steps the federal government has made toward retroactive sentencing reform in the case of crack cocaine convictions, and I believe there are ways to legally bring retroactive sentencing and parole modifications to Illinois so as to reduce unnecessary incarceration.
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. The Attorney General’s responsibility to issue legal opinions in response to requests by the governor or General Assembly is broad, and I will not hesitate to utilize the best minds in my office to provide a thorough answer on this or any other question of criminal law.