Illinois Justice Project

Candidate Answers

LORI LIGHTFOOT

 
 
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1. THE ROLE OF THE MAYOR IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM: Criminal justice advocates, both locally and nationally have argued for the need for continued reform of the criminal justice including the promotion of policies and programs that can better guarantee a fair and effective process for all people that have contact with the justice system, regardless of their color, creed, economic standing, where they call home in the city, or whether they are victims, law enforcement officials, community members or the accused. 

There is a concern from some that reform efforts frustrate law enforcement’s ability to ensure public safety. A central question is whether reforms that call for constitutional policing and safety can be balanced positing that reform efforts actually bolster safety outcomes.

What is your position on the perceived balance between pursuing criminal justice reform efforts and the requirements for achieving safety outcomes for law enforcement? Does the pursuit of these two goals conflict or go hand-in-hand?

I believe that that is a false dichotomy. A mayor can pursue meaningful criminal justice reform while also ensuring public safety. I am the only candidate in this race that has a broad depth of experience in dealing with issues related to police brutality, accountability and police and criminal justice reform. My perspective on these issues stems from my roles as a federal prosecutor, the head of the former Office of Professional Standards, head of the Police Accountability Task Force (PATF), whose report served as the underpinnings for both the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) report and recommendations on the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the consent decree, president of the Chicago Police Board, and a board member of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

 My body of work demonstrates my commitment to ensuring that public safety is available to everyone and in every neighborhood, that officers must be held accountable for misconduct and that taxpayers cannot continue to shoulder the burden of unchecked misconduct manifested in settlements, judgments, and attorneys' fees currently totaling more than $500 million in the last seven years. As detailed in my 16-page public safety plan, I will continue and accelerate the pace of reform within the CPD, including implementing civilian oversight of CPD, ensuring officers receive training and resources spelled out in the consent decree, including more officer wellness resources, training police officers on interacting with youth, enlisting health professionals to serve as co- responders with CPD officers and expanding efforts to diversify CPD. In an effort to further repair relationships between the police and the communities they serve, I will create a new chief diversity office for CPD, design a real community policing strategy that rebuilds what was lost when CPD disinvested in CAPS, undertake peace and reconciliation efforts, involve communities in police training, and require police recruits to participate in a two week orientation program in the first districts to which they are assigned.

The current Mayor of Chicago has played a role in determining the direction of criminal justice policy at both the city and state level. As mayor, would you continue that involvement? If so, would the substance of your role and advocacy change from the current administration? If so, how?

Yes. As mayor, I will continue to advocate for criminal justice reforms at the local, state and federal levels.

If you support furthering reform efforts, should next steps focus solely on reducing incarceration of low-level offenders or go beyond? Are there efforts that you believe need to be pursued or current efforts that need to be abandoned?

I support efforts aimed at reducing prison and jail populations by keeping non-violent and low-level offenders out of jail while they await trial. As mayor, I will work with local, state and federal leaders, policing and criminal justice experts to identify ways to further reform the criminal justice system.


2. GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION: Although public sentiment might suggest that violence in Chicago is at an all-time high, Chicago has experienced a steady decline in murders over the past decades, from nearly 900 homicides in years throughout the 1990s to 473 in 2015.  In 2016, however, Chicago saw 765 murders, the most in two decades. The previously cited statistics do not incorporate the countless number of Chicago residents who have been injured by gun violence, live with the trauma of having a victim of gun violence among their family or friends, or witness gun violence. 2017 and 2018 has seen drops in murder, but despite the numbers, gun violence at any rate is unacceptable.

 Cited as causes for the jump in violence were the growing lack of investment in at-risk communities, limited resources for addressing mental health and substance use, easy access to illegal guns, poor community-police relations, falling clearance rates, a withdrawn police force and an ineffective justice system.

Are there particular causes, of the ones cited above, that you believe have had the greatest impact on gun violence or causes on the list that had little impact in your opinion?  Are the others causes not on the list, that you believe caused the spike or initiated the most recent drop?  If elected, what would you do to help improve bond court practice and outcomes across the state?  

As set forth in my detailed public safety plan, we cannot arrest our way out of our violence problem. Instead, the city and its partners must treat this epidemic of violence as the public health crisis that it is. This means addressing the root causes of violence by revitalizing economically distressed neighborhoods, ensuring access to quality schools in every neighborhood, eliminating food and medical deserts, and providing a pathway to good jobs that pay a living wage. In addition, we must follow the lead of cities like Boston and Oakland and increase the resources devoted to violence interruption techniques so we can stop violence before it happens.

Furthermore, the city, philanthropic foundations and local businesses must place more emphasis on, and commit more resources to, organizations across the city that help ease the transition of the thousands of citizens released annually from state and county jails back into society and the workforce. Providing legitimate jobs that pay a living wage is one of the best ways to reduce violence and recidivism and improve our communities.

To stop violence, we must also be much more proactive in stopping the flow of illegal guns that fuel violence. This requires a proactive, coordinated response from law enforcement that must be led by the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, in coordination with the ATF, FBI, DEA, the CPD and state and county law enforcement, as well as federal counterparts in states like Indiana, Wisconsin and Mississippi, from which large sources of illegal guns flow. We must target the traffickers, felons in possession and straw purchasers with an effective carrot (social service support and jobs for those who leave the criminal life) and stick (stepped up prosecutions for serious offenders) approach. In addition, the U.S. Attorney’s office must significantly increase the number of illegal gun cases prosecuted in Chicago.

To ensure that the city has a comprehensive public health approach to addressing violence and overall public safety, I will create a Mayor’s Office of Public Safety, a first of its kind in Chicago. There are currently only two full-time personnel on the mayor’s personal staff devoted to the broad public safety needs of the city such as police, fire, homeland security, emergency management of natural and man-made disasters, and 911 and other emergency services. This is woefully inadequate, particularly when compared with the resources devoted by the mayors of New York City and Los Angeles. Competent stewardship of the city’s public safety needs and infrastructure requires a real commitment of resources and expertise. And that is precisely what I will bring to the job.

We also must strengthen existing state gun laws, sign into law legislation regulating gun dealers, and support federal legislation that makes gun trafficking a federal crime. State legislators can strengthen existing laws to discourage straw purchasers and punish traffickers, as well as address problems arising from the failure to report lost or stolen guns, and the governor can sign legislation requiring gun dealers to certify their federal license with the Illinois State Police and take measures to protect against straw purchases. On a federal level, Congress can pass Representative Robin Kelly’s Gun Trafficking Prevention Act, which would make gun trafficking a federal crime and would increase penalties for straw purchasers.

 The next mayoral administration also must do more to support CPD, which is reporting that for 2018 it seized approximately 9,7000 illegal guns, which is twice the illegal crime guns seized in New York and Los Angeles combined. This means creating a single office in CPD to track illegal guns and gun arrests across the city, increasing the number of hours CPD’s crime lab is open, the number of firearms examiners and the number of shifts examiners are available to process gun crime evidence. It also means purchasing a $300,000 mobile ballistics laboratory that can be dispatched immediately to shooting scenes and which can process ballistics information in hours, instead of days. (This mobile lab costs less than the average amount CPD spent per day on overtime between 2013 and 2017.)

Is there a change in policy, or multiple policies, that you will make as Mayor of Chicago that will address the causes outlined above and lower gun violence?

See answer above.

The previous administration opined that increasing sentencing on illegal gun possessors is a successful strategy for reducing gun violence because it incapacitates bad actors and deters future illegal acts. Opponents have cited that the current State sentencing structures for gun possession is already among the highest in the nation and changes won’t provide any extra deterrence given the police case closure rate and economic status of communities. They further argue that public resources now spent on incarceration would be better diverted toward elevated investment in at-risk communities as a strategy for reducing violence and risky conduct before it happens. What is your opinion on this issue?

I do not believe there is a one-size-fits-all answer as to the appropriate length of incarceration and punishment for gun offenses in Chicago. As a former federal prosecutor and lawyer who represented, on a pro bono basis, people who had been wrongfully convicted, I know that context matters.

Of course there is a role for incarceration and punishment as a deterrent for people who have committed gun crimes, as a deterrent for others, and as a demonstration to victims and the public that there is justice. When possible, we should use diversion programs for first-time offenders and low-level offenses. I also support eliminating cash bail—our jails should not be debtors’ prisons for the poor. I have long supported the work of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and others to advocate for the elimination of this system. Lastly, must educate children about the dangers of gun violence to prevent these crimes from being committed in the first place.. 

Do you support the creation of the Office of Violence Prevention? What is your opinion on public health approaches to reducing gun violence? 

See answer above.


3. DRUG POSSESSION: Local police have been on the frontline of fighting the adverse effects of drug addiction and the drug trade for decades. Despite massive efforts and expenditures to avoid the resulting negative impacts, more than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017. In metro Chicago in 2017, more people died from drug overdoses than from gun injuries. Despite generation-long efforts, both supply and demand for illegal drugs have remained functionally unaffected.

Recently, particularly in the light of the opioid epidemic (which has had a devastating impact on minority communities), the issue of substance abuse has begun to be recast as a public health issue, prompting calls for sentencing reform and treatment. Law enforcement approaches, while having questionable success in reducing the overall supply and demand of drugs, have seen Blacks to be far more likely to be incarcerated for drug offenses, even though they use and sell drugs at a rate similar to other races.

Do you agree that in addressing drug issues, the City of Chicago, needs to shift their models further away from a law enforcement-based approach toward a public health model or do you believe the city should strengthen their law enforcement approaches?  If you believe there should be a shift toward the public health model, what specific policies and programs would you pursue?

Similar to the answer to the question above about gun sentences, there is no one-size fits all approach to this issue. As discussed above, I support a public health approach to addressing public safety issues. I also support providing opportunities for people to find employment in the legitimate economy, including individuals returning from county and state jails, so they do not have to resort to the illegitimate economy in the first instance.

The term Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) refers to the disproportionately high percentage of minorities in the criminal justice system in relation to their proportion of the general population. Experts argue that DMC is especially problematic in drug code enforcement. Do you believe DMC is an issue that can be addressed or an unavoidable byproduct of segregated violent communities? If you believe it is possible to address, how would you reduce or eliminate DMC in Chicago?

The police must believe and recognize that respectful, constitutional engagement with the community is their most powerful tool, and this needs to come through in their interactions with all Chicagoans, and especially communities of color. As set forth in my public safety plan, this can be achieved through rebuilding community-police relations and reforming police practices.

Would you support efforts to defelonize possession of small amounts of controlled substances in an effort to better deal with addiction and continue to right-size the incarcerated population as numerous other states have?  Please relate your response to anything in your background that demonstrates how you have advanced the issue of racial equity in general.  

I support the legalization of recreational marijuana, but I do not support decriminalizing possession of drugs like opiates and cocaine.

Speaking more broadly, how would you rate the current state of deflection (which ensures people do not have contact with the system at all) and diversion (which attempts to remove people from the system that are already there) programs offered to Chicago justice-involved residents.

I believe that deflection, where police and law enforcement act as referral sources to drug treatment and mental health services, is an essential tool that should and will be more widely used by local law enforcement throughout Illinois as a result of the passage of SB3023.


4. JISC and DFSS: The Chicago Police Department operates the Juvenile Intervention and Support Center (JISC), a physical space and approach to juvenile delinquency designed to take in children that are arrested and determine the disposition that provides the greatest opportunities for future success. The JISC is located at 3900 S. California Avenue and provides police for seven Districts: 2, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12. A central purpose of the JISC is to reduce crime and recidivism. It is modeled after centers in other cities (e.g. Miami), where the underlying principles include connection and linkage to services, avoidance of arrest, transparency in data, and inclusion of stakeholders in an advisory capacity. A key principle behind the JISC is that intervening in a youth’s life and connecting him or her and their families with providers in the social services, health care, and education systems is a more effective way to prevent future delinquency for some children than incarceration or other traditional juvenile justice approaches. 

 Advocates have argued that the JISC’s has failed to employ model principles—such as avoidance of arrests, transparency in data, and inclusion of stakeholders which has hampered the JISC from those that could provide more services—and therefore, has prevented the JISC from fulfilling its purpose of reducing crime and recidivism. How would you improve the JISC? Do you think that an improved program design and implementation could improve outcomes for individual juveniles, families and communities as it has in cities like Miami where just 5 percent of the youth in the program recidivate?  If so, what design would you implement?

Transparency, accountability, stakeholder participation and civilian oversight are essential to a successful, effective government, and this includes the Chicago Police Department (CPD). I have advocated for civilian oversight of CPD, which would provide transparency and accountability of JISC. In addition, a Mayor’s Office of Public Safety employing experts in public health and social services would be involved in overseeing JISC and ensuring that model principles are employed.

Would you support third-party oversight of the JISC?

I support civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department, and I have come out in favor of many of the recommendations made by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability.

The JISC relies on support from the Department of Family and Support Services, a wing of city government that distributes millions of dollars in services each year that can decrease violence by supporting workforce development, homeless support and services for the formerly incarcerated. Would you direct DFSS dollars in a different manner?

If I am elected, my administration will analyze how each city department, including DFSS, spends taxpayer dollars to ensure that they are being used efficiently and effectively.


5. EMPLOYMENT: The National Employment Law Project has estimated that nearly 42 percent of Illinoisans have criminal records or arrest histories. In 2017 alone, more than 27,000 people left Illinois prisons and more than 50,000 people were released from Cook County Jail. Many of them returning to neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West Sides, which have high rates of poverty and little economic opportunity.  Giving people with criminal records a fair shot at employment is increasingly being embraced as necessary to reduce crime.

In 2015, Mayor Emanuel signed into law the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act, the city’s version of “ban the box.” The effectiveness of that law, however, has been called into question by advocates as it allows employers in Chicago to run background checks immediately after they select a person for an interview, but before the interview happens. This prescribed sequence has arguably failed to adequately protect individuals from being denied a job based on their criminal history.  Advocates point to California as a model which bars a background check from happening until after an applicant is offered the position, as the most effective version of the law.

Are there current city-wide employment reentry programs that you would support? Are there new programs that you would support or adopt through the City Council or Illinois General Assembly? Do you believe the ban the box law, called the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act, needs modification?

It is imperative that we reduce recidivism by helping people and communities. This means abandoning failed incarceration and rehabilitation policies and practices, and turning instead to evidence based programs with track records of success and policies that remove barriers to opportunity for people with arrest and conviction records. For instance, we know that among all re-entry programs, employment training/job assistance returns $20.26 on every dollar invested. We also know that recidivism rates decrease significantly when returning citizens have access to employment and safe, stable, and affordable housing.

Working with the state, community-based providers like Safer Foundation and CARA, local and national businesses, affordable housing providers and philanthropic organizations, we can dramatically reduce recidivism by:

-Creating the Office of Returning Citizens Affairs and streamline reentry services -Supporting community-based social service programs

-Advancing policies and legislation that remove barriers to obtaining housing

-Restructuring city spending to address social determinants of health

-Providing returning citizens access to affordable educational opportunities

The city of Chicago has taken strong steps to toward offering employment opportunities across its agencies to those with criminal records. Advocates have applauded those efforts and argue that is time for the city government to go further and make the city the gold standard model for instituting fair chance hiring practices. It is argued that leadership by the city could positively influence private hiring practices. Do you agree that the city should go further?

I agree that the city should expand efforts like those already underway at CTA to hire individuals with criminal and arrest records. The power of a second chance is something that I deeply understand. As the sister of someone who spent much of his adult life in prison, I know how important it is that we reduce recidivism by helping people and neighborhoods. This means abandoning failed incarceration and rehabilitation policies and practices, and turning instead to evidence based programs with track records of success, and policies that remove barriers to opportunity for people with arrest and conviction records.

Annually, more than 11,000 people return to Chicago upon their release from prison. Among all re-entry programs, employment training/job assistance returns $20.26 on every dollar invested. We also know that recidivism rates decrease significantly when returning citizens have access to employment and safe, stable, and affordable housing.


6. HOUSING: Throughout the county, Chicago has one of the highest rates and absolute number of people without housing, with nearly 6,000 people in Chicago who lack housing on any given night. One study showed 54 percent of those without housing had been incarcerated in the past, now facing barriers including landlord restrictions on tenants with criminal histories and restricted access to public housing.  These barriers persist even though some academics have concluded that there is no predictive value of a criminal record in the housing context.  What is known is that housing instability often leads to re-arrest and re-incarceration.

As Mayor of Chicago, what efforts would you make to remove barriers to housing for previously incarcerated individuals thereby helping to reduce the recidivism rate?  Would you expand legal protections?  Would you provide greater financial incentives for landlords?

Access to stable housing is critical to reducing recidivism. Nationally, more than 10% of those coming in and out of prisons and jail are homeless in the months before and after their incarceration. The lack of access to reliable housing places huge strains on returning citizens and their families, depriving them of a necessary foundation for a stable life. Moreover, it has significant social and economic costs as returning citizens become homeless, cannot find work, re-offend and/or return to jail or prison.

 In an effort to increase access to stable housing, my administration will:

 ●  Draft and work to pass a “fair chance” ordinance that prohibits landlords from imposing blanket bans on renting to an individual based on his or her criminal record. Instead, landlords would be required to conduct an individualized analysis of an applicant’s conviction history, including whether the individual poses a threat to the public and the community, the amount of time since the person’s conviction, evidence of rehabilitation and other mitigating circumstances. Policies such as these not only make sense, but they move our policies into alignment with the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

 ●  Reform Chicago Housing Authority (“CHA”) practices that discriminate against people with arrest records by prohibiting CHA from denying housing to individuals based on arrest and conviction records, and evicting people from CHA because of their records.

 ●  Increase access to temporary housing so a person’s stay in jail or prison does not exceed his or her sentence. Many people remain incarcerated after their scheduled release dates simply because they have nowhere to go upon release. Rather than spend $143 per day to incarcerate a person, the city should work with Cook County and the state to invest this money into creating more temporary housing.

 ●   Increase access to transitional housing so returning citizens who are waiting to get into treatment, education and/or job training programs have a stable place to live. The city can work with providers and other units of government to create and expand programs like the University of Illinois Health and Hospital System’s Better Health through Housing Initiative, which places people in “bridge units” until longer term housing arrangements can be secured.


●   Improve access to permanent affordable housing. People with arrest and conviction records often face barriers to securing permanent housing, even years after their release. This issue will not be addressed until landlords and property owners are incentivized to lease to people with records, or until incentives are given to prospective property owners to purchase land or property specifically for mixed-use and mixed-income housing that includes slots for people with arrest or criminal records.


7. CRIMINAL DEBT AND THE TRAFFIC CODE: Numerous recent studies and media stories have identified perceived unfair administrative and policing practices that have taken money out of Black and Brown neighborhoods. A Chicago Tribune story uncovered a massive discrepancy between the number of bike citations written in majority Black communities compared to majority white ones. A WBEZ story highlighted that increased ticketing for city vehicle stickers disproportionally forced Black residents into debt and the criminal justice system. A Chicago Sun-Times piece found that despite de-criminalization of small amounts of marijuana, Black Chicagoans account for the vast majority of arrests and tickets for its possession. Twitter users discovered and publicized a joint Norfolk Southern and Chicago Police Department strategy of placing bait-trucks filled with new shoes in poor, Black neighborhoods with the intent of arresting those who went into the bait trucks.

The response from city officials has been that these policies, which may have a discriminatory racial impact, are linked to attempts to keep majority Black communities – torn apart by violence – safer and raise revenue for the city, which is in need of financial assistance.

Do you believe these goals justify the disparate impact outlined above or do you believe that the city needs to re-examine policies and practices like the ones above which some advocates argue exacerbate poor relations with the city and law enforcement to ensure communities of color are not victimized?

No, I do not believe these goals justify the disparate impact on communities of color.

If you are against these policies, how would you ensure that they are not implemented? Are there principles that you would adopt that would serve the goal of avoiding policies like these? If you support these policies as a necessary step to protect communities, how would you justify their disparate impact to members of communities of color that feel victimized by them?

Leadership begins at the top. As mayor, I will ensure that CPD engages in constitutional policing and does not engage in discriminatory practices like those outlined above, and that the city conducts a thorough audit of ticketing practices.

The City of Chicago requests that the Secretary of State suspend thousands of licenses a year for purely financial obligations that stem from non-moving violations. Taking licenses away from anyone, but especially low-income individuals inhibits their ability to work (and pay off fines), care for their young and elderly, and could drive them into the criminal justice system. Should these requests end?

Yes. Additionally, I support adopting standards to ensure that payment plans are affordable and accessible for Chicago’s most vulnerable drivers. The consequences of losing one’s license or being forced into bankruptcy based on an inability to pay fines and fees can be devastating and can significantly and adversely impact one’s quality of life and ability to seek employment.

 It is unacceptable that our ticketing system is having such a devastating impact on low-income people and people of color. To identify and address racial disparities, I will direct that an audit be conducted into potential bias in ticketing. Additionally, right now people who owe money to the city aren't allowed to work for the city or as taxi or ride-hail drivers. I would end this policy for people whose outstanding payments are below a certain threshold, and would seek to stop the suspension of drivers’ licenses for non-moving violations.

 


 8. THE CONSENT DECREE AND POLICING: In August of 2017, the current Illinois Attorney General sued the City of Chicago, contending that ongoing reforms by the city at the time were not sufficient to prevent the Chicago Police Department from continuing patterns of excessive and deadly force that disproportionately impact Blacks and Latinos. Many argue that the consent decree, which covers pressing issues such as use of force, training and community policing, is an opportunity to help turn around historic shortfalls that have frayed community-police relations.

The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has argued that the consent decree is not needed and other means of policy change should be pursued. Do you agree with the FOP that the Consent Decree is not needed? If you believe it is needed, what type of change can it provide if front-line police officers have not bought in? How should communities be incorporated in the process of enforcing the consent decree?

Much of the substance of the consent decree reflects the findings and recommendations of the Police Accountability Task Force, which I chaired. While I support the consent decree, as I have said publicly, and as I outlined in a six page letter to Judge Robert Dow, the consent decree needs substantive changes. For instance, the consent decree does not address the use of chokeholds, firing into crowds or unchecked misconduct manifested in settlements, judgments, and attorneys' fees currently totaling over $500 million in the last seven years. As mayor, I will immediately take the following steps to ensure that the consent decree is effectively implemented: ensure sufficient budget, personnel and transparent accountability measures over and above the monitoring to ensure that we are making meaningful steps toward transforming the police department.

If you generally support the consent decree, is there a specific part of the consent decree that falls short of your expectations? If you do not support the consent decree, which section or sections do you believe are particularly damaging? If so, why?

See answer above.

While not addressed in the consent decree, the next police employment contract will likely have a large impact on a number of relevant issues, including promotion and discipline. How would you approach negotiations and are there particular points of interest that you would focus on?

I support the recommendations made by the Police Accountability Task Force, which I chaired, as well as the 14 recommendations promoted by the Coalition for Police Contracts Accountability.

 Youth advocates have argued that the funding for a $95 million police training facility would be better spent on community investment, claiming it would be more effective in preventing violence. How would you respond to these activists?

I do not support Mayor Emanuel’s plan for the proposed west side police academy. It was not well conceived, not borne of a collaborative process with the community and there has been no discussion for how that investment can spur further economic growth. There is a need for a new facility, but I do not support this plan.