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.
I am deeply concerned about the quality of justice and believe strongly that Illinois must implement significant reforms to its criminal justice system.
One of my proudest accomplishments was signing the legislation abolishing the death penalty, a penalty that was imposed repeatedly on innocent persons and inordinately on people of color. During my tenure as Governor, I also made review of clemency petitions a priority. I acted on 4,928 petitions, reducing a backlog that dated back to 2003. I granted 1,795 of those petitions, more than any other Governor in Illinois history, bringing relief to people like Tyrone Hood, a man who had spent 22 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit.
If I am elected Attorney General, I will make criminal justice reform a priority of my office.
I will work with other elected officials, law enforcement officials, judges, other members of the Bar, thought leaders and reform advocates on many fronts, including the subjects raised in this Attorney General Candidate Questionnaire. Together we must address the evils of mass incarceration, wrongful convictions and unequal justice.
There are many things that must be done. As I discuss below, persons awaiting trial should not be incarcerated just because they are too poor to afford bail. Alternatives to traditional criminal courts, such as the new Restorative Justice Community Court in North Lawndale, should be expanded. I also support alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenses under appropriate circumstances.
Rather than rehabilitating offenders, prisons too often serve as a revolving door for poor people, particularly people of color, who never are given the opportunity to learn the skills they need to succeed upon release. Although prisons may be the only appropriate option for violent offenders, they hold far too many non-violent offenders. Prisons fail to provide adequate training, and provide the wrong setting for mental health and drug treatment that so many prisoners need. It is extremely troubling that as the result of the disastrous state budget impasse education and training programs were cut.
I am very concerned about racial disparities with respect to police stop and frisk; stops should be made only under compelling circumstances. To increase the safety of communities, the focus must be on building bridges between residents and the police, such as an emphasis on community policing.
The large number of wrongful convictions in Illinois is outrageous. Law enforcement officials must be held accountable if they participate in the conviction of persons they know are not guilty of a crime.
There is much to accomplish and I look forward to using the resources of the Attorney General’s office to be a reform leader, in the interest of justice, to help reduce the tremendous waste of both public and human resources, and to improve public safety.
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?
Basing pre-trial release on access to wealth is wrong and contrary to law. It neither protects the rights of persons accused of crimes nor promotes public safety, and must not be allowed to continue in Illinois. Judges must comply with the provisions of the Illinois Bail Statute, as amended by the Bond Reform Act of 2017.
The actions that Chief Judge Evans took in 2017 and the start of 2018 to change the way that Bond Court in Cook County operates are major steps forward. It is important to note that Eric Holder expressed in his memo that the Illinois Bail Statute if properly implemented contains the necessary elements for an effective and equitable pretrial system.
If a careful assessment of current Cook County Bond Court operations shows that judges are now correctly applying the Bail Statute, then I would hope that the current litigation could be ended. If issues remain, I will engage with Chief Judge Evans and other stakeholders to attempt to reach consensus on what is required to come into compliance. Similarly, judges in other counties must apply the Bail Statute correctly. To the extent that counties on a systemic basic are failing to do so, I will partner with stakeholders to ensure that those counties come into compliance with the law.
It is a fundamental constitutional principle that persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty and further that persons should not be subject to pre-trial incarceration unless they pose a risk to public safety or a flight risk. I am totally committed to working with all stakeholders, and to take legal action if necessary, to defend these principles.
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?
I have long been concerned about the challenges faced by people who have a criminal record.
When I served as Governor, I issued an administrative order and later signed legislation to “Ban the Box.” Recently, this legislation has been expanded, but more needs to be done if people who have served their sentence are to have a productive life.
The questionnaire in part mentions the problem of private companies purchasing criminal records from governments and then making that information available to the public via the internet, even when the information has been sealed or expunged. This practice is troubling; the Attorney General must vigorously enforce the laws currently in place regarding the release of records that have been sealed or expunged, and must demand that these companies update their records constantly. If elected Attorney General, I also will pursue additional legislation if current laws are inadequate to address this problem.
This is a challenging subject. As a state, we simply must find ways to reintegrate into society people who have been convicted of a crime but who have served their sentence. Failing to do so results in recidivism and is a huge waste of human capital which hurts us all. If elected, I will work with all stakeholders to identify solutions that balance community concerns and the need to address the barriers referenced in the questionnaire.
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?
I support a consent decree. The U.S Department of Justice and Chicago’s Police Accountability Task Force confirmed reports spanning decades that the Chicago Police Department has continued to engage in excessive force and racially discriminatory practices. Although, as the questionnaire points out, the City and CPD have taken steps to implement change, in order to ensure lasting reform I believe there must be a consent decree that is judicially enforceable, independently monitored, and transparent to the public.
As you know, the DOJ report persuasively outlined numerous CPD policies and procedures that should be addressed in a consent decree, including: training to support officers, use of force, supervision, disciplinary review and officer mental health and support. If I am elected and a consent decree is not yet in place, I will pursue a consent decree that addresses these subjects.
States attorneys should consider looking to third parties to prosecute police misconduct cases, and the Attorney General’s office should be prepared to assist or take on these cases. But except in extraordinary cases, it is the States Attorney who should make this call.
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?
The findings of the Task Force are very disturbing. Civilized societies make available a court system to resolve disputes and give due process to persons charged with an offense. Excessive fees undermine our system of justice: they may limit access to the courts and place burdens on low-income defendants that may not easily be overcome.
If legislation addressing the issues identified by the Task Force is not enacted before the end of this year’s legislative session, I will lobby for reform legislation if I am elected Attorney General. It is important that the current system of fines and fees which has developed over the years be rationalized and that an unfair and inordinate burden not be placed on people who utilize the courts, particularly low- and moderate-income people.
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?
I will lobby the General Assembly to pass common sense gun safety laws and will intervene in federal lawsuits that seek to prevent states and local governments from enacting reasonable gun legislation. I also will partner with law enforcement agencies to prosecute serious gun law violations. In 2014, G-PAC, the Gun Violence Prevention PAC, praised my “long and impressive record of support for common sense gun safety.”
With respect to aiding victims of violence, it is clear that neighborhoods that are most severely hit by violent crime are underserved. State government should direct more money for trauma and healing services into those areas. If elected, I will reach out and listen to persons who are working in communities hard hit by violence to determine how best to allocate limited resources and also will seek additional funding for victims.
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?
Adopting the kinds of reforms set forth in the Commission’s report will reduce the prison population significantly, and I support the goal of a 25% reduction. The extraordinary level of incarceration in Illinois and across the United States, which exceeds levels around the world, is the result of get tough on crime policies which have failed. It is time that Illinois adopt new, more effective, policies that will reduce recidivism, bring down costs, achieve justice and promote public safety.
As a general matter, I believe that sentencing reforms should be applied not only going forward but also to persons who have been convicted of the applicable crimes in the past. This is both a matter of fairness and sensible public policy. If policy makers reach a conclusion that a particular approach to sentencing is in the public interest, then the benefits of that approach should be realized regardless of when the crime happened to occur (subject to the due process rights of the accused). Of course, reforms must be carefully considered and the concerns of victims must be taken into account.
If elected I will utilize the resources of my office to engage in a full analysis of the legality of retroactivity and convey the results in an appropriate manner.