1. THE ROLE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM: Illinois residents, policy makers and advocates from all parts of the state and across the political spectrum have united to understand how to improve the criminal justice system. The current efforts are based on the well-defined proposition that an effective criminal justice system provides both fairness and safety for all people of the state, despite their color, creed, geographic location or economic standing.
The Office of the Illinois Attorney General is responsible for law enforcement and the equal protection of law for all citizens. What role will your administration play in the criminal justice reform movement?
How would your approach be different from the current administration when it comes to justice reform and/or how would it be similar? Please identify a particular policy or position that would be a focus of your criminal justice reform work as Attorney General.
As Attorney General, I will help lead the criminal justice reform movement in Illinois. I will be an advocate for reforms in Springfield. I will work with community organizations and help voice their concerns in Springfield. I will work with other state and local agencies to identify and implement reforms. And I will ensure that my office has staff and resources dedicated to helping implement reforms needed to improve our criminal justice system.
Our criminal justice system has made some progress during Lisa Madigan’s term as Attorney General, but much work remains. I believe Illinois needs to resolve its incarceration epidemic. I will fight for sentencing guidelines that reduce mandatory minimums and put power back in the hands of judges. We need to emphasize serious, violent crimes so we can reduce our prison population and prevent people from entering the system in the first place. To reduce recidivism and improve outcomes, I will advocate for rehabilitation programs, job training programs, mental health services and reentry services. I will also advocate for the legalization, taxation, and regulation of marijuana. The war on drugs has been a catastrophe and created generations of inequality.
Although the prison population has reached all-time lows, officials continue to point out that many of the people in Cook County jails should not be there and do not pose a danger to anyone. Violent criminals accounted for less than 30 percent of the admissions to Cook County jail in 2012. We still incarcerate some individuals merely because they are too poor to post bail.Recidivism rates are unacceptably high; nearly half of all people who enter the Illinois jail system will be arrested for a new crime within three years of their release.
This epidemic has a disparate impact on communities of color. Despite using and selling drugs at similar rates as other communities, African Americans and Latinos represent more than 60 percent of those incarcerated for drug offenses. African Americans represent 40 percent of all of those incarcerated, even though they represent only 15 of the population. People of color are more than three times as likely to be searched during traffic stops. We are incarcerating a generation of young men and depriving them of any meaningful opportunity to succeed. The incarceration epidemic is also draining needed resources from cash-strapped governments, and creating division between law enforcement and communities.
We can begin to solve these problems through more thoughtful sentencing guidelines, drug laws, and improved services. As Attorney General, I will lead the way toward a better criminal justice system in Illinois.
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?
If elected, what would you do to help improve bond court practice and outcomes across the state?
I agree with the Holder memo. I do not support the current bail system in Illinois and believe it creates a system where many offenders are incarcerated because they are poor, rather than because they pose a risk to the community. As Attorney General, I would help lead the effort to reform the bail system in Illinois. I will advocate for a system where individuals are incarcerated based on the seriousness of their offense, their risk of flight, and the risk they pose to the community if released pending trial. I will further advocate that non-violent offenders who pose no risk to the community should not be incarcerated pending trial because they cannot afford to pay bail. I do not believe anyone should be in prison simply because they cannot afford to pay bail.
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?
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?
As Attorney General, I would enforce Illinois law allowing for the sealing of criminal records. I would investigate efforts by government agencies or private companies to circumvent these laws and bring enforcement actions as necessary to ensure that individuals have an opportunity to move forward without the burden of their past. I would also advocate for the Illinois legislature to further expand the categories of persons eligible to have their records sealed. To address those instances where information has improperly been released, I would advocate for the Illinois legislature to pass legislation prohibiting landlords, schools, and employers from declining an applicant based on the commission of a non-serious, non-violent crime.
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?
Do recent personnel changes within the Chicago Police Department and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability or the introduction of the new Attorney General website on the consent decree affect your opinion on the need to reform?
Do you believe that special prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office should be used to handle select cases of excessive and deadly force, or do you support continued reliance on local state’s attorneys to handle these delicate cases?
As Attorney General, my office would continue to participate in the current Attorney General’s lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department. I believe a consent decree would be an appropriate resolution. I look forward to working closely with law enforcement to make sure they have the resources they need to do their jobs well and that they are living up to their obligation as public servants. I will not tolerate anyone who abuses their position to take advantage of others. Nor would I tolerate a culture that turns a blind eye to a pattern of unlawful behavior that disproportionally affects communities of color. No one deserves to live in fear simply because of the color of his or her skin. Law enforcement, together with community groups and criminal justice advocates, should be working partners in collaborative reform efforts. We have to be able to restore trust between government and people, law enforcement and communities in order to tackle critical issues like gangs and gun violence.
I support the current Attorney General’s introduction of a website on the consent decree and broader efforts to solicit community input on the consent decree and public safety. These are positive steps, but are merely part of the process to heal the wounds caused by decades of allowing the relationship and trust between the police and the communities they serve to deteriorate.
I would also assign special prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office to handle select cases of excessive and deadly force, in consultation and cooperation with local state’s attorneys. It is critical that we remove political influence and pressure from the evaluation of cases involving the use of force by police, and ensure that all cases are evaluated fairly and pursued with all necessary vigor to protect the interests of communities and their police.
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?
I agree with the findings of the Statutory Court Fee Task Force. The current system attempts to pass an increased share of court costs to the parties, the costs are inconsistent across the state, increase at a rate that outpaces inflation, and impose a disproportionate impact on low and middle income Illinois residents. At Attorney General, I will work to level the playing field in Illinois to ensure that all residents have fair access to the court system. I will advocate for the Illinois Legislature to revise the fee schedule and waiver provisions to bring fairness, transparency, and consistency to Illinois courts. I will also closely supervise the application of fee schedule and waiver provisions across the state and pursue relief for residents of Illinois if the court system exercises any discretion in a manner that disproportionately impacts low and middle income Illinois residents, or any community within Illinois.
6. GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION: Gun violence in urban areas across the state continues to reach crisis levels. While Illinois has had a vibrant debate on the effectiveness of increasing sentencing for possession of guns by repeat gun offenders, nearly everyone on both sides of that debate agrees that we must do more than increase criminal sentencing penalties to see significant safety improvements.
Stemming the tide of illegal guns into victimized communities is commonly identified as a key priority in stopping gun violence. A closer examination of urban gun violence reveals that many young men and boys on the path to violence have themselves been victims. The lines continue to blur between perpetrator and victim in the urban gun violence context.
As Attorney General, what would you do to improve our state’s efforts in preventing gun violence? What would you do differently from the current Attorney General to stem the flow of illegal guns into communities hit hard by gun violence?
Given that the Attorney General’s Office is a major stakeholder in supporting crime victims and that, in the past, support has largely gone to a non-diverse set of victims of crime, how might you as Attorney General support broadening the idea of who is a crime victim in order to break the cycle of violence?
Mass shootings continue to devastate communities throughout the country. There is no shortage of legislative recommendations to address this problem, but lawmakers repeatedly fail to translate these recommendations into laws. Similarly, Illinois’ largest city is plagued by gun violence, an issue that has its roots in systemic inequality, oppression and economic disparity. Again, our elected leadership has consistently ignored these problems or taken steps to exacerbate them with policies that favor the privileged few at the expense of working people and communities of color.
No one law or legal challenge is going to fix decades of neglect and injustice. We need fundamental changes to our government in Illinois and in Washington if we are going to tackle gun violence in a meaningful way.
We need to start treating gun violence as a symptom of a larger and deeply rooted problem in our society. If we are not able to tackle the root causes of violence – economic disparity, educational inequity, lack of healthcare options, food deserts and institutional racism – then too many of our communities will continue to live in fear. We have suffered under a failure of leadership, and every elected official has a responsibility to advocate and implement policies that take a holistic approach to gun violence, rather than focusing solely on criminality.
As Attorney General, I will fight to keep guns out of the hands of people who have forfeited their ownership rights, and I will fight to fully enforce penalties for anyone who chooses to use a gun to commit a crime. I will do everything I can to end the trafficking of illegal weapons to illegal owners, just as I did when I was a federal prosecutor.
As a federal prosecutor, I saw first-hand the devastating effects that gun violence inflicts on our communities, particularly disadvantaged communities, and will protect the interests of any victim suffering as a result gun violence. I prosecuted gang members who bragged about shootings and met victims who lost loved ones to gun violence. Their communities suffer as young people become victims of gun violence and law-abiding citizens are afraid to walk in their own neighborhood. This is not a political issue—there are no winners and losers. This is an issue of life and death for many Illinois’ residents and I am going to treat it as such every day if I’m fortunate enough to serve as Attorney General.
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?
What is your opinion on the legality of retroactive sentencing reforms?
The Illinois Criminal Code defines the responsibility of the Attorney General to include giving legal or constitutional opinions on issues relating to criminal law. If elected, would you be willing to issue an official legal opinion supporting the legality of passing laws which address retroactive sentencing?
I agree with the need to achieve the goal of reducing the prison population by 25% by 2025. I believe this reduction can be achieved safely through several steps. Most directly, Illinois should revise its criminal laws and sentencing guidelines to put an emphasis on serious, violent crimes, rather than non-violent, non-serious crimes. As an example, Illinois should revise its drug laws to legalize marijuana and reduce low-level, non-violent drug crimes to misdemeanors. Moreover, Illinois should infuse communities with opportunity for jobs and economic growth, thereby reducing the instance and influence of gangs, drugs, and other criminal activity.
I also favor reducing sentences for non-violent, low-level offenders and will issue a legal opinion supporting the legality of passing laws that address retroactive sentencing reductions. As Attorney General, I would evaluate the appropriate means for legally and constitutionally reducing sentences retroactively, whether through executive commutation, clemency, judicial authorization, parole, and/or legislative action.