Illinois Justice Project

Answers: Sharon Fairley

Sharon Fairley Questionnaire Answers

 Sharon Fairley

Sharon Fairley

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?

As the top attorney in the state, the Attorney General can and should be a strong advocate for smart criminal justice reform that is based not just on “tough on crime” rhetoric, but rather, is based on what actually works from a law enforcement perspective. The Attorney General can promote a legislative agenda for reforms that can help address the injustices inherent in our current systems that adversely affect the poor and people of color. We must address the issues of illegal firearms trafficking, bail reform and over-incarceration in a way that allows us to maintain public safety.
As an Assistant Attorney General, federal prosecutor, and Chief Administrator for the Civilian Office of Policy Accountability, I have seen how and when our justice system works well and where it needs improvement. I will use the Office of Attorney General to lead criminal justice reform that works for all communities in Illinois by:
  • Partnering with law enforcement to identify and implement proven crime-fighting strategies;
  • Promoting policies and legislation to address unconstitutional policing;
  • Promoting public safety by helping to build and rebuild police/community relations; and
  • Implementing policies and a legislative agenda that delivers smart criminal justice reform that reduces prison populations, addresses recidivism, and incorporates equitable bail programs, and addresses systemic racial and socio-economic bias.

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.

Because the attorney general is responsible for enforcing the laws of the state, which includes the U.S. Constitution, the office must play a more proactive role in reforming a broken and discriminatory criminal justice system.
Under my leadership, the office will seek reforms by pursuing a legislative agenda and promoting statewide policies.
  • Implementing mitigation programs. As attorney general, I will propose legislation that allows nonviolent offenders to seek fairer sentences. I will work to propose evidence-based mitigation programs that will provide judges with the tools to devise sentences that are sufficient but not greater than necessary to meet the purposes of punishment, deterrence and public protection.
  • Reforming mandatory minimum sentencing. Excessive mandatory minimum sentences keep nonviolent drug offenders in prison for too long and have increased racial inequality in our criminal justice system. I will work to:
    • Reduce mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses
    • Perform a review of any sentencing disparities and work to eliminate those that affect communities of color, and apply this change retroactively;
    • Allow judges greater discretion to issue probation for certain offenses;
    • Ensure that jails and prisons meet constitutional standards for prison conditions. Jails and prisons need to meet minimum constitutional standards and not put inmates at serious risk of harm. As attorney general, I will work to ensure that jails and prisons meet basic standards and to protect inmates against reprisals and beatings and provide
  • Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. I will work to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline by convening a statewide summit on the School-to-Prison Pipeline that will explore solutions such as: increased training and tighter policies for law enforcement officers working in schools; support to schools to reform overly punitive disciplinary policies; reforming school disturbance laws; and exploring the use of federal education funding to implement social and emotional support interventions.

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? 

 In June 2017, the Illinois legislature passed the Bail Reform Act of 2017. In September 2017, Cook County  Chief Judge Timothy Evans issued a general order aimed at addressing widespread injustice in the county’s bond court. While these reforms are helpful, the money bail systems in place in courts across Illinois continue to negatively impact low-income individuals.
As AG, I would call for legislation that (1) replaces cash bail with a risk-assessment tool to determine the defendant’s flight risk, risk of non-appearance, risk to the community, and ability to pay to determine whether bail should be imposed; and (2) if bail is appropriate, call for a proposed court rule that would require an evidentiary hearing and a finding by the judge that an accused person is able to afford the monetary bail amount before allowing a bond to be set in any criminal case.
In addition to inequitable bail systems, the appropriateness of court fines and fees, along with additional sanctions for nonpayment, has become an issue nationwide due to the negative impact these expenses have on the poor. Low-income offenders in many towns and cities are charged fines and fees they simply cannot afford, often leading to additional fees or late charges. Failure to pay these fees can lead to driver’s license suspensions and even to incarceration. In some cases, people convicted of minor offenses and charged fines as the only penalty, may end up going to jail because they are unable to pay or are chronically late in making payments. The Attorney General must also promote reform to these systems which only exacerbate the cycle of poverty in low-income communities.

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?

We know that approximately 50% of individuals released from the Illinois Department of Corrections lands back in custody within 3 years. Our ability to reduce the state’s prison population will be perpetually impaired by recidivism unless we take action to support detainees in rebuilding productive lives. Over 1 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.
In addition to addressing criminal records, under my leadership, the office will work to promote housing, educational, and economic opportunities for the recently released. For example, we should reconsider whether the ban on allowing all felons, regardless of their crimes, from residing in Section 8 housing.

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?

The attorney general should be a resource to inform individuals seeking expungement about their rights and how to navigate through the complex system to get the relief they need. The office can also work with court’s and state’s attorney’s office to identify ways to streamline the process.

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 fully support a consent decree that outlines a comprehensive reform plan for the Chicago Police Department which will include a court-appointed monitor and community-involved enforcement powers.
The consent decree should be broad in scope to address the depth and seriousness of the issues observed in the department, including the historic lack of resources afforded the department which has contributed to the Department’s underperformance on fighting crime and serving the community. The vast majority of Chicago Police Department members are hard-working and dedicated public servants. They deserve the resources and support they need to do their jobs well. Those members whose conduct does not meet expectations must be held accountable in a consistent and fair way through a robust accountability system upon which the community can rebuild trust.
The consent decree must outline reforms involving all aspects of department operations including: recruiting, training, policies, supervision, performance evaluation, employee support, and accountability systems.
The department must also take affirmative steps to strengthen and improve the department’s culture into one that embraces diversity, procedural justice, integrity, and a profound respect for the communities served.
The challenges we see in police accountability are not limited to Chicago. As attorney general, I will work to enact a series of reforms intended to improve police accountability statewide.   
These include:
  • promoting a state-wide initiative to improve policies governing the use of force;
  • providing guidance and oversight of the investigation of officer-involved shootings and other incidents resulting in death;
  • annual required training on the use of force, de-escalation, crisis intervention, and implicit bias; and
  • reforming the state certification system to ensure revocation of certification for officers who are unfit to serve.

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? 

Although recent reforms enacted by the City of Chicago to enhance police accountability, including the creation of the new Civilian Office of Police Accountability, are a step in the right direction, there is still much more to be done to ensure that Chicago, a world-class city, is protected by a world-class police organization.
The Chicago Police Department needs a top-to-bottom overhaul of all of its operational policies to ensure that they reflect best practices in policing strategy.
Despite the startup of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), the accountability system continues to need significant change. For example, the majority of police misconduct complaints continue to be investigating by the Bureau of Internal Affairs (BIA). I will support placing a civilian leader to oversee the Bureau of Internal Affairs and recommend that the city adopt reporting requirements for reporting on the cases investigated by BIA to ensure transparency about the quality and integrity of those investigations.  I will also support additional reforms necessary to ensure that matters adjudicated before the Chicago Police Board are handled with integrity and transparency.

 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 attorney general must step in to prosecute cases involving allegations of excessive force by law enforcement officers where the state’s attorney has a conflict or otherwise lacks the resources or expertise to pursue the matter.  In addition, under my leadership, the Public Integrity Bureau of the office will include a prosecution integrity unit that will be empowered to review cases where a state’s attorney has declined to file charges against a member of law enforcement.  In addition, I will work to incorporate new reporting requirements in the Police and Community Relations Improvement Act, which governs how officer-involved death incidents are investigated. 
As Attorney General, I will also work to implement the following initiatives to address police accountability:
  • Set reasonable standards for the use of lethal force
  • Statewide task force on use of force and accountability to:
    • Recommend a policy governing the use of lethal force by law enforcement based on best practices and community input that can be promulgated for use statewide;
    • Recommend revisions to the state law governing the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers;
    • Recommend the content and frequency of statewide reporting on use of force incidents that result in death or serious injury; and
    • In collaboration with the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board (ILETSB), recommend the content and frequency for annual training for law enforcement officers on use of force, de-escalation, crisis intervention and implicit bias.     
  • Improve the integrity of officer-involved shooting investigations
    • Outline training for law enforcement officers and/or civilians involved in officer-involved shooting investigations;
    • Provide legal oversight and review of officer-involved shooting investigations; and
    • Standardize and enhance the protocols to improve the quality and integrity of officer-involved shooting investigations.
  • Revisions to address gaps in police accountability legislation
  • Propose new standards on police certification
Additional, more detailed information on my platform on police accountability is available at

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?

With respect to fines and fees, I support adding a simple provision in the Illinois Code of Criminal Procedure requiring courts to waive fines, fees and costs for indigent defendants. This new statutory provision should largely mirror the existing procedure for civil litigants, as set out in the Code of Civil Procedure at 735 ILCS 5/5-105. For the working poor and other individuals of modest means who do not qualify as “indigent,” a sliding scale should be established so such individuals are not overburdened with fines, fees, and costs that are excessive based upon their income.

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 Attorney General, I will address gun violence in a comprehensive manner that not only promotes common sense gun legislation but works to get at the root causes of gun violence. Nearly 1,000 Illinois residents and 30,000 individuals across America are killed by guns each year.
I have seen first-hand the devastating effects of gun violence to families, communities, and the very fabric of our society. I have been dedicated in my professional and personal life to addressing the problem of gun violence. During my tenure as an Assistant United States Attorney, I investigated and prosecuted numerous cases involving the illegal use and possession of firearms. In particular, I worked with the ATF to disrupt a firearms trafficking ring that was bringing in illegal guns from out of state and selling them on the streets of Chicago.
Gun violence is a public health crisis that needs to be attacked in a comprehensive manner. As attorney general, I will attack the problem of gun violence on three fronts: (1) common sense gun legislation; (2) more proactive enforcement; and (3) a community-driven approach on education, after-school programs, and economic development. 
Illinois Laws
  • Eliminate State Preemption of Firearms Regulation
Prior to 2013, Illinois had broadly permitted the local regulation of firearms. On December 11, 2012, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Illinois' concealed carry ban was unconstitutional and gave the state 180 days to change its laws. However, in July 2013, when enacting the law that outlined rules related to the concealed carrying of firearms, the General Assembly incorporated amendments to the Firearm Owners Identification Card Act of 2013 that limit the ability of municipalities to enact ordinances to address gun control. The amended FOID Card Act preempts local regulation of the licensing, possession, registration, and transportation of handguns and ammunition. The Act also established that regulation of the possession or ownership of assault weapons is an exclusive power of the state. Given that our state legislators have been unable to achieve any significant progress in the way of gun control, this preemption of regulation by Illinois municipalities is problematic. I will strongly advocate for reversal of this legislation.
  • Ban Assault-Type Weapons Statewide
Assault weapons are designed to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. So, it should come as no surprise that perpetrators of mass shootings often use these types of weapons. Assault weapons and the high-capacity magazines that accompany them should not be readily available to those who intend to do harm.
Chicago has banned the possession of certain semi-automatic firearms that it defines as assault weapons. Cook County has banned the possession of certain semi-automatic firearms that it has defined as assault weapons. The possession of firearms that have been variously defined as assault weapons is also illegal in Lincolnwood, Skokie, Evanston, Highland Park, North Chicago, Melrose Park, Riverdale, Dolton, Hazel Crest, Homewood, and the part of Buffalo Grove in Cook County. As outlined above, under current law, other municipalities are prohibited from regulating possession of assault weapons. As such, we need the state legislature to act promptly on this issue.
Last year, a bill to ban bump stocks failed in the Illinois legislature. I will push for a ban on assault-type weapons and related equipment such as bump stocks.
  • Create, enhance, and enforce legislation which prevents individuals in crisis or involved in domestic violence from obtaining or possessing firearms
Already five states--California, Washington, Oregon, Indiana, and Connecticut--have statutes that can be used to temporarily take guns away from people whom a judge deems a threat to themselves or others. Lawmakers in 18 other states, including Illinois, are considering similar measures. I will work to support enactment of the Lethal Violence Order of Protection Act (HB 2354) which allows for a family member or a law enforcement officer to petition for an order of protection that would prevent an individual from possessing or purchasing a firearm. The person petitioning for the order must explain why the person poses an immediate and present danger to himself or herself, or another person by possessing a firearm. 
Because fatal domestic violence accounts for as many as one in six homicides in some cities, in particular, we also must work to ensure perpetrators of domestic violence do not have access to guns.
Currently, Illinois law prevents some domestic abusers from possessing guns including laws that specifically prohibit the purchase or possession of firearms by persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses and persons subject to temporary restraining orders or final orders of protection.
However, there remain deficiencies in Illinois law that can result in abusers gaining access to firearms. I support doing more to protect women from abusers and stalkers. As attorney general, I will work to enhance and enforce legislation which prevents individuals involved in domestic violence from obtaining or possessing firearms.
For instance, in Dallas County, TX, judges developed a courtroom process to ensure that convicted domestic abusers who are prohibited from having firearms relinquish them as mandated by law, and partnered with a local firing range to hold the guns for safekeeping.
●      Advocate for Gun Dealer Licensing Act
I will work hand-in-hand with community groups to urge the Governor to sign the Gun Dealer Licensing Act, which would give state authorities and law enforcement the tools to encourage better business practices among federally licensed gun dealers and hold corrupt dealers accountable to slow the flow of illegal gun trafficking in Illinois.
  • Federal Laws
Although Illinois does have a complement of laws on the books intended to prevent gun violence and the illegal possession, use and sales of guns, we are surrounded by states whose laws are not nearly as robust as needed. The flow of guns into our communities from neighboring states is significant and problematic. From 2009 to 2013, 60 percent of the guns used in crimes in Chicago came from gun dealers outside of Illinois. However, due to current loopholes in federal law and a lack of federal resources for enforcement, Illinois residents are bearing the brunt of the gun trafficking and gun violence in our region.
  • Support Enhancements to the Background Check System
Last fall, following the mass shooting incident in Las Vegas, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) co-sponsored a bill to enhance the federal background check system. The measure, which has bipartisan support and is also supported by the NRA, would require states and federal agencies to produce plans to report offenses that would bar people from passing a check needed to purchase a firearm. The bill also reiterates that federal agencies must report all violations to the National Instant Criminal Background Check system and creates new financial incentives for states to report information.
  • Support the Gun Violence Restraining Order Act of 2017
In addition to pushing for legislation creating a way to obtain emergency orders of protection leading to the temporary removal of firearms from individuals in crisis, we must also push for such legislation at the federal level. The Gun Violence Restraining Order Act of 2017 proposes that all states enact legislation that would allow courts to issue orders and warrants after finding that there is a reasonable suspicion that possession of a firearm by an individual poses a significant risk of personal injury to himself/herself or others.
  •  Work to prevent enactment of federal “Reciprocity for Concealed Carry”
The federal Concealed-Carry Reciprocity Act would permit a resident of any state of the union to carry a concealed firearm in Illinois, so long as the person is licensed to do so in their home state. This means that non-residents of Illinois who, under state law, would be precluded from carrying a concealed weapon, are allowed to do so in Illinois. This is an unacceptable infringement on our state’s rights.
  • Eliminate the Dickey Amendment
In 2016, more than 100 medical organizations signed a letter to Congress asking to lift the Dickey Amendment, a 1996 provision that limited the scope of research related to epidemiology of gun violence. The CDC is the primary agency responsible for using data and research to understand how to prevent, preventable health issues. Although the term “disease” is part of the agency’s name, its public health responsibilities are considerably broader. For example, the CDC studies drownings, accidental falls, traumatic brain injuries, car crashes, suicides, and more. The CDC should be permitted to study the impact of gun ownership on public health.
●      Increase State and Federal Prosecution of Illegal Gun Possession Cases
We know that federal prosecution of illegal gun possession cases has been on the decline and we need to address that going forward. I will work to ensure that every jurisdiction in Illinois in which gun crimes are prevalent has a working group comprised of federal and state prosecutors and law enforcement agencies that is dedicated to investigating and prosecuting gun crime cases.
●      Enact Police Reform to Improve Case Closure Rates
Unfortunately, the rate at which the Chicago Police Department solves violent crime cases is at an all-time low. For example, in 2016 CPD solved only 20 percent of murder cases and this number fell to approximately 17 percent in 2017. Whereas in 1991, the closure rate was near 70 percent. This is a problem because violent criminals have no incentive to curtail their gun violence if they believe their chances of getting caught are exceedingly low. As attorney general, I will work to ensure the reform plan adopted for CPD will provide the resources, training, and personnel necessary to ensure the city’s violent crime case closure rate returns to its previously impressive high.
●      Improve enforcement of FOID Card Revocations
In Illinois, more than 2.1 million people have FOID cards, a number that has grown by almost 1 million since 2010, according to state police. In 2016, about 11,000 people had their cards revoked, but only approximately 4,000 submitted the required reports stating what they did with their guns, state police said.
As Attorney General, I will work alongside law enforcement to promote better enforcement of the revocation of firearms licenses in Illinois, particularly where an incident of domestic violence was the reason behind the revocation.
  • A Community-driven Approach on Education, After-school Programs, and Economic Development  
We know that strengthening gun laws alone will not solve our gun violence problem. That is why I will adopt a community-based approach to increase access to after-school programs, partner with community groups to take back their communities, and promote education and economic development.
According to Jens Ludwig, of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, there is data to suggest that an intensive job training program reduces the risk of targeted individuals by 50%. In addition, the Crime Lab also suggests that state funding of schools is important. More specifically, the Crime Lab estimates that a 29% increase in school funding by the state could result in a 20% increase in the high school graduation rate, which in turn could lead to a 30% reduction in the homicide rate.
It is imperative that cities can offer positive alternatives to at-risk persons before they fall into patterns of violence, using interventions shown to have long-term impacts on violent behavior. Chicago has been piloting new programs, including cognitive behavioral therapy and short-term summer employment, which have reduced arrests and increased graduation rates. For instance, one successful program is the YMCA of Metro Chicago's Bridging the Divide program which was developed to help build understanding between youth, law enforcement officials, and other community members.

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?

The support of crime victims is an important aspect of the mission of the office of the Attorney General. The Crime Victim Services Division of the office is responsible for administering several programs for the benefit of crime victims, including: the Illinois Crime Victim Compensation Program, the Domestic Violence Fund, the Violent Crime Victims Assistance Program, and the Statewide Victim Assistance Program, which is executed in collaboration with State’s Attorneys. 
These programs and the benefits they provide must be distributed to eligible recipients in a fair way and according to the applicable legal rules.  The Office must find ways to ensure that crime victims are aware of the programs and benefits for which they are eligible through outreach, educational efforts, and communication programs executed in coordination with law enforcement and the state’s attorneys.  In addition, the office must have protocols in place to ensure that the funds are distributed equitably.

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 and believe that public safety could be preserved or potentially enhanced by reducing our prison population. This goal can be achieved through:
  • Effective police reform that directs people in crisis to treatment or support services, rather than into the criminal justice system
  • the increased use of diversion programs, such as Adult Redeploy and Juvenile Redeploy
  • the expansion of problem-solving courts such as those focused on drug addiction, domestic violence, re-entry and veteran’s needs;
  • Targeted sentencing reform;
  •  Increased resources on programming directed at reducing recidivism

 What is your opinion on the legality of retroactive sentencing reforms?

Illinois is one of only two states that does not presently have an active parole system. Criminal justice reformers across the country, including in those in Illinois, have proposed legislation to improve parole policies, making it more possible for people serving long sentences to be released from prison. For example, House Bill 531 would be provide sentencing relief for people under the age of 21 when they committed the offense of conviction.
Depending on the charge, the person would have to have served a minimum of either 10 or 20 years before becoming eligible for consideration for parole. Additionally, people sentenced to "natural life" (i.e., life without parole) would likewise be ineligible. There remains substantial debate regarding whether such benefits should be made retroactive to allow for the currently incarcerated to benefit.  Where the process allows for input from victims, such programs are likely to pass constitutional muster.
The implementation of retroactive sentencing reform has been effectively accomplished at the federal level. The process employed by federal prosecutors and courts to address revised sentencing guidelines can be used as a guide for implementation of a state-wide approach to sentencing reform. The process allowed defendants seeking relief under new sentencing guidelines to petition the sentencing court for relief. A petitioning defendant would be presumed to be eligible for relief, but where the specifics of the case presented significant aggravating circumstances, the court could deny the request for a sentencing reduction. 

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 support fair sentencing and will work to promote eliminating unwarranted sentencing disparity that disproportionately affects people of color. I am willing to work with criminal justice reform experts and other stakeholders in analyzing sentencing reform. This type of analysis should be done in order to make informed decisions. 
As Attorney General, I will fulfill my duty, under section 4 of the Attorney General Act (15 ILCS 205/4), to, upon request, furnish written legal opinions to State officers and State’s Attorneys on matters relating to their official duties. So long as proposed sentencing reform provisions are consistent with the Illinois Constitution, including the provision that requires that crime victims have the right to have the safety of the victim and the victim's family considered setting conditions of release after arrest and conviction, I would issue legal opinions pursuant 15 ILCS 205/4 consistent with that view.