Illinois Justice Project

Answers: J.B. Prtizker

J.B. Pritzker Questionnaire Answers

J.B. Pritzker

J.B. Pritzker

1.     GUN VIOLENCE: Gun violence in urban areas of the state continues to reach crisis levels. Legislative debates about increasing prison sentences for gun crimes have drawn passionate reaction on both sides of the issue. Even supporters of longer sentences have acknowledged that to stop gun violence, Illinois must do more than increase prison time for repeat offenses. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has said repeatedly that we cannot arrest our way out of this gun violence problem, and Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx has stated that while Illinois laws impose some of the most severe penalties to those convicted of gun crimes, the state has not enacted major legislation targeting the flow of illegal guns into victimized communities.

What specific actions would you take as Governor to help address gun violence? What should Illinois do to crack down on the flow of illegal guns into our neighborhoods? What will you do as Governor to improve police effectiveness, help support interventions of individuals at risk to commit and/or be victims of violence and improve community renewal efforts?

Gun violence is a public health epidemic. It kills people, destroys families, and rips apart our communities. Recognizing violence as a health epidemic and building safer communities must be at the center of any plan to reduce gun violence. Like all epidemic diseases, the treatment must include interruption, risk reduction, and a change in community norms so that everyone can feel safe in their own communities.

There is no single cause for this epidemic and there is no single solution. Access to guns and where they come from is one factor. Over half of guns recovered by the Chicago Police Department can be traced to a state outside of Illinois. Without better data collection and law enforcement coordination across the state, it’s hard to know the same about crime guns recovered from Peoria and East St. Louis to Cairo. That’s a problem.

Systemic disinvestment in our communities leading to adverse economic outcomes is also a key factor. Unemployment in the five Chicago communities most affected by gun violence is as high as 35%. Unemployment in other regions of the state most affected by gun violence exceeds the state average too. This has only been compounded by Bruce Rauner’s failed leadership. His 736- day budget crisis decimated funding for violence prevention, after school programs, and mental health services.

We need to fight for all communities to be healthy and safe, and we need to partner with those already doing this work. As governor, I will work with all communities affected by gun violence. Together, we will lead efforts to treat gun violence as a public health epidemic, rebuild healthy communities, increase firearm safety, and support the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

  • Treat gun violence as a public health epidemic:
    • Empower the Illinois Department of Public Health to expand their treatment of gun violence as a public health epidemic.
    • Fight for public health research on gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at the federal level.
    • Focus on prevention and intervention by investing in community programs that interrupt violence and encourage non-violent conflict resolution.
  • Rebuild healthy communities:
    • Restore funding for community organizations and human services programs. These services are critical to prevent violence, disrupt violence through after school and mental health services, treat those most at risk, and change community norms.
    • Create economic opportunity in neighborhoods most affected by gun violence by increasing access to capital and training for small businesses and expanding education opportunities for youth.
    • Partner with localities to develop conflict resolution programs for our children.
  • Increase firearm safety:
    • Implement universal background checks for every gun sale in Illinois.
    • Make a lethal violence protection order available so that families can step in to protect loved ones from harming themselves and others.
    • Ban assault weapons, high capacity magazines, and bump stocks in Illinois to help prevent mass shootings.
    • Support and sign a gun dealer licensing bill to ensure firearms are sold in a safe and responsible manner.
    • Create and lead a consortium of regional states committed to reducing gun trafficking across our state border. This will also allow law enforcement agencies to share data to help track the flow of illegal guns.
    • Create a dedicated gun crime investigation unit within state police that coordinates with local police departments to focus on illegal gun trafficking and gun crime.
    • Secure federal funding to improve background check records reporting.
    • Create an inter-agency working group to evaluate the state’s progress in providing prohibiting records to the federal NICS background check system.
    • Ensure all domestic violence and drug abuse prohibiting records are pre-validated and uploaded to the appropriate background check systems in a timely manner.
  • Support the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve:
    • Increase accountability between law enforcement and the communities they serve by making the Traffic and Pedestrian Stop Statistical Study permanent and incentivizing data collection for all stops no matter the result.
    • Implement continuing education training for law enforcement that is culturally competent, evidence-based, and a routine component of professional development. We also need to ensure this training includes instruction on de-escalation tactics, proper use of force, and community intervention.
    • Support state and local law enforcement officers by ensuring they receive proper mental health services for any trauma they may experience.


2.     DRUG OFFENSES: Recently, particularly in the light of the opioid epidemic, the issue of substance abuse has been begun to be recast as a public health issue, prompting calls for sentencing reform and treatment.

If you are elected, how would you address the opioid epidemic? How will you ensure equitable use of federal and state opioid-related and other substance abuse funding in suburban, rural and urban areas of the state will be based upon demonstrated needs?

There is an opioid crisis in Illinois that is ending too many lives and devastating too many families. This crisis is only getting worse, with a 44.3 percent increase in drug-related overdoses from 2013 to 2016. Last year, there were 2,278 drug-related deaths in Illinois, and over 80 percent of drug overdoses are now caused by opioids. The super-opiate, Fentanyl, took 562 lives in Cook County alone in 2016, up from 20 in 2014.

Unfortunately, Governor Bruce Rauner is once again failing to lead. In 2015, bipartisan members of the General Assembly came together to pass the Heroin Crisis Act, a forward-thinking and comprehensive bill to combat the epidemic. Rauner vetoed the bill, forcing legislators to override his veto — the only override of that legislative session. Rauner also proposed slashing funding for addiction treatment by 20 percent, with Illinois already in the bottom three states for providing publicly funded addiction treatment. Rauner’s 736-day manufactured budget crisis only made the problem worse, devastating the state’s addiction and mental health treatment services and forcing 27 public health departments to reduce staff or services just as the opioid crisis spiraled out of control.

We can’t afford to ignore this crisis. We need a governor who will recognize this emergency and prioritize addressing it. My plan is focused on five key priorities:

1.   Focus on Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Prevention and Education. Opioid use can be particularly dangerous among children and adolescents. Between 1994 and 2007, the prescribing rates for opioids among adolescents and young adults almost doubled. In 2015, more than a quarter of a million adolescents were using pain relievers without a medical purpose. Children often access opioids from prescriptions of family members, while most adolescents who abuse opioids were first prescribed them by a doctor. Moreover, children and adolescents with a higher risk for substance use disorder are more likely to be prescribed opioids.

As Governor, I will work with the medical and mental health communities to make sure that pediatricians discuss the serious dangers of opioids with parents and patients, both during routine check-ups and when writing prescriptions. I will also encourage regular mental health screenings, and work to ensure that psychiatrists discuss drug abuse with adolescent patients, given the increased danger of drug addiction in patients with mental illness. Finally, I support a greater public health campaign in schools. This will allow for the dangers of opioids to be taught in an age appropriate manner and ensure the stigma of addiction will not prevent those who need it from seeking treatment.

2.   Reduce the Risks of Prescription Opioids. Opioids have legitimate medical purposes, but they are not without substantial risks. Nationally, nearly 80 percent of heroin users reported using prescription opioids first. Patients can also shop doctors and pharmacies, leaving little way to monitor their prescriptions. While Illinois currently has a prescription monitoring program that tracks prescription opioids, the program is optional for physicians.

To combat prescription opioid abuse, I will work with physicians to put in place measures that help keep people safe. I will fight to strengthen Illinois’ prescription monitoring program so that physicians and pharmacies will have access to accurate information about the quantity of opioids their patients are receiving. I will also work to ensure that physicians are better trained in the dangers of opioid addiction and treatment options as part of continuing medical education. Finally, as called for in the updated prescribing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I will support legislation to implement comprehensive prescribing guidelines that further limit the number of days of an initial opioid prescription, which can reduce the risk for addiction.

3.   Remove Barriers to Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery. Too often, those suffering from opioid addiction only receive treatment once they go to emergency rooms. Intermediate treatment and medication-assisted treatment are hard to find, especially in central and southern Illinois. This makes long-term recovery harder and leaves Illinoisans most at-risk without the tools they need to build healthy lives.

As governor, I will use a multi-pronged approach to remove barriers to addiction and mental health treatment and recovery. I will restore the treatment, housing, and workforce development supports that were decimated under Bruce Rauner and look for ways to expand capacity across the state for treatment services. Additionally, I will facilitate coordination between hospitals and social service agencies to ensure that individuals who receive emergency treatment for drug use are directed to treatment programs upon discharge. We also need to expand jail and prison substance use disorder case management systems to connect individuals to community treatment upon release. This coordination will give those suffering from drug addiction the tools they need to transition into recovery.

4.   Work with the Criminal Justice System to Prioritize Treatment Over Incarceration.  We know that incarcerating Illinoisans who are addicted to opioids is more expensive and less effective than providing medical treatment. The average cost of methadone maintenance treatment is about $4,700 per patient. A year in prison costs Illinois over $22,000 per inmate. Every dollar invested in addiction treatment programs yields a return of between $4 and $7 in reduced drug-related crime and criminal justice costs. Methadone treatment for just 2,500 people could save Illinois up to $100 million dollars in reduced crime and health care outcomes.

As governor, I will work to increase access to problem-solving drug courts, ensure that judges understand the available treatment options, and ensure those options are more readily available. That means having enough space to meet demand in rehabilitation programs, including both inpatient or medication-assisted treatment programs. Providing access to this treatment will help formerly incarcerated people ease back in to the community, increasing their chances to rehabilitate their lives and reducing the likelihood of recidivism.

5.   Ensure Health Insurance Companies Cover Addiction Treatment Fairly. Healthcare is a right, not a privilege, and all Illinoisans deserve access to quality care. That includes treatment for opioid addiction. Quality treatment is easier with insurance coverage, and Illinois has strong laws on the books to ensure that insurance companies cover treatment for mental health and substance use disorders, given the strong correlation between the two. However, a recent report found that 75 percent of Medicaid managed care organizations (MCOs) denied coverage for a range of treatments. This is in addition to almost half of commercial insurance companies that deny coverage for inpatient treatment and nearly one-third that deny coverage for partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and medication-assisted treatment. The report also found that both Medicaid MCOs and commercial insurance companies regularly utilize other barriers to care for mental health and substance use disorder treatment short of outright denial.

As governor, I will work to ensure that insurance companies provide the coverage for mental health and substance use disorder treatment that they are lawfully required to cover. I will strengthen enforcement of the state’s parity laws and close loopholes that still allow insurance companies and MCOs to partially deny coverage based on a range of non-quantitative treatment limitations. I will also work to expand healthcare across our state, through my first-in-the-nation public option health insurance program, Illinois Cares.

6.   Leverage Federal Funding Opportunities to Fight the Opioid Epidemic Locally.  To root out the opioid epidemic, we also need to do the work at the local level. There is positive work happening in some of our communities where law enforcement, social services, and schools work together and apply for federal grants. These resources are then used to fund locally-directed prevention and drug take-back programs at the community level. The state should assist every community in Illinois to form coalitions and compete for these critical grants.

As governor, I will fight to ensure that the state is capturing as much federal funding as possible. I will focus on matching opportunities, where a modest state investment can unlock federal funding. I will also find ways for the state to assist local governments and non-profit organizations in taking advantage of federal grant opportunities. This is especially true for many of our small and rural communities that may need more technical assistance on grant applications. Finally, I will help local governments form intergovernmental task forces, so that police departments, schools, and public health departments can work together to combat opioid abuse across our state.


3.     SENSIBLE SENTENCING LAWS: In his first month in office in 2015, Governor Bruce Rauner issued an executive order creating the bi-partisan Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, which is composed of leaders from law enforcement, public service, academia, and the General Assembly. The executive order directed the Commission “to develop comprehensive, evidence-based strategies to more effectively improve public safety outcomes and reduce Illinois’ prison population by 25% by 2025.” The Commission met for two years and delivered over 20 actionable recommendations. While some progress has been made in implementing them, many have not been turned into law or enacted administratively.

Do you support the goal of the Commission? Do you support the Commission’s recommendations? Are there any recommendations that you would prioritize? Do you have other recommendations to lower the state’s prison population?

I support the goal of the Commission and plan to build upon the Commission’s recommendations.

It is time to envision a criminal justice system that delivers justice to victims, rehabilitates individuals, and builds safer communities. That’s not where we are right now. Decades of systemic racism, underfunded public schools, and excessive sentences have led to mass incarceration across Illinois. Our prisons are operating at 134 percent capacity and there are nearly 43,000 individuals behind bars – but this is about more than statistics and numbers. This is about systemic disinvestment in communities and families, African American men being incarcerated at staggering rates, and a broken system in desperate need of reform.

We must start with Illinois’ sentencing laws. We need sentencing guidelines that not only match the offense, but also work to deter crime and build safer communities. We also need to reform the bail system and partner with communities across the state to bolster successful diversion programs and robust data collection.

As governor, I will work to reverse the foundational causes of mass incarceration. Under Bruce Rauner, we’ve seen steady disinvestment in our communities, human services decimated, and economic opportunity for our middle class and those striving to get into the middle class disappear. Yet, Illinois will spend over $1.4 billion in FY17 incarcerating its citizens. We need to modernize our approach to sentencing to focus on public safety and smart sentencing. The savings obtained from modernizing the sentencing system should be invested directly back to our communities to fund programs that reduce incarceration in the first place and expand opportunity for all Illinois communities.

  • Reform sentencing laws to better match the offense:
    • Legalize marijuana, lower the penalties for certain drug offenses, and adjust the punishments for other non-violent offenses.
    • Reform excessive sentencing, reduce the use of mandatory-minimums, and allow judges greater discretion to use probation for certain offenses.
  • Protect people from being unfairly detained and imprisoned:
    • Abolish the monetary bail system and replace it with a validated risk assessment tool that is fair to all of our communities.
    • Stop the unjust application of fees and fines that burden those who can’t afford to pay and can lead to further incarceration.
  • Partner with communities to divert people from the justice system:
    • Strengthen local diversion programs and promote collaboration to share best practices and replicate what’s working.
    • Partner with local officials to collect and analyze data, provide support to evaluate local initiatives, and share best practices across the state.


4.     REDEPLOY ILLINOIS: Since the project began in 2005, the Redeploy Illinois program for juveniles has incentivized local jurisdictions to divert Illinois youth from the state youth prison system and has helped provide local programming that has been more successful at treating the problems that have contributed to criminal behavior. Nearly 2,500 youth have been diverted from prison over the past nine years. These diversions have helped allow the state to close three juvenile prisons and avoid more than $15 million in spending in a single year. Because of the success of the juvenile Redeploy program, Adult Redeploy Illinois was created in 2010 and has diverted more than 2,500 adults and resulted in cost avoidance of $75 million.

Do you support the expansion of these Redeploy Illinois programs? Are there other programs that you support that would improve both the scope and effectiveness of diversion programs?

I support the expansion of Redeploy Illinois. I support programs that keep families intact by diverting youth involvement with the juvenile justice system and want to expand evidence-based youth diversion programs that address mental health, substance use, trauma, and other needs that may lead to negative outcomes. I also support partnering with municipalities in the use of restorative justice as an alternative to prosecution and incarceration of adolescents.

5.     CASH BOND: Although presumed innocent before trial, thousands of men and women across Illinois are sitting in jail solely because they cannot afford to pay the bail set by a circuit court judge. Recent reform-- including the Bail Reform Act of 2017 passed by the 100th General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Rauner and local efforts in Cook County initiated by both the Chief Judge and the State’s Attorney of Cook County – have not eliminated the use of cash bond. The financial and family consequences facing low-income people in jail are enormous. Some innocent people will languish for years in jail until trial and then are released; others will plead guilty because they want to return to their homes as quickly as possible to keep their lives on track. Some Illinois courts keep up to 10% of all bonds – even when a person is found not guilty or charges have been dropped – and have become dependent on the bond system.

How would you reform the Illinois bond system?

I will protect people from being unfairly detained and imprisoned by leading the fight to abolish the monetary bail system and replacing it with a validated risk assessment tool that is fair to all of our communities. I'm also in favor of stopping the unjust application of fees and fines that burden those who can’t afford to pay, leading to incarceration.

6.     DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE: Over 10 years ago, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) was created as a stand-alone agency separate from the Illinois Department of Corrections, and the new IDJJ was directed to emphasize rehabilitation of youth rather than only punishment. Through a variety of legislative and administrative actions, the state’s youth prison population has been reduced from an average of 1,200 to under 400 youth today. This has resulted in the closing of three youth prisons. IDJJ now houses the remaining 400 youth in five prisons operating at less than half of capacity.

Should some of the existing underpopulated prisons be closed? Does the state do enough to keep youth out of prison and rehabilitate those sent to state prisons? How would you improve the juvenile justice system? How would you measure the success of DJJ and its aftercare programs?

Exposure to trauma, neglect, sexual assault, or abuse as a child can negatively impact adolescent brain development. Too often in our juvenile justice system, trauma is ignored and adolescent behavior is criminalized. We need to do more to ensure juvenile justice agencies are trauma informed and culturally competent. We also need to make sure they reflect the latest science indicating that significant brain development occurs well into a person’s twenties. This is particularly true in the area of the brain that controls risk-taking and impulsivity.

While adolescents are more likely to take risks and behave impulsively, their brains are also more open and responsive to education and rehabilitation. Recognizing this, we should focus on rehabilitative alternatives to prosecution and incarceration in our juvenile justice system.

Keeping adolescents out of the system will not only improve their own well-being, it also frees up resources we can use to invest in education and building community capacity. In 2016, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice spent $172,000 annually to incarcerate each youth. That is a staggering 29 times more than effective community-based alternatives to incarceration that cost an average of only $6,000 per youth, per year.

  • Reform state agencies working with children to reflect the latest science:
    • Ensure state agencies are trauma informed, culturally competent, and responsive to the latest science on adolescent brain development.
  •  Build community capacity and invest in protective factors that make communities strong:
    • Increase state funding for public education, invest in early childhood education, expand access to quality healthcare with a public option plan, and restore and expand investments in after school programs.
    • Reverse Bruce Rauner’s damage to human service agencies across our state by properly funding effective evidence-based programs like home visitation for at-risk youth, community-based mental health, and violence prevention and intervention.
  • Keep families intact by diverting youth involvement with the juvenile justice system:
    • Expand evidence-based youth diversion programs that address mental health, substance use, trauma, and other needs that may lead to negative outcomes.
    • Partner with municipalities in the use of restorative justice as an alternative to prosecution and incarceration of adolescents.

7.     DISPROPORTIONATE MINORITY CONTACT: The term Disproportionate Minority Contact refers to the disproportionately high percentage of minorities in the criminal justice system in proportion to the general population. For example, rates of marijuana use by youth are similar across all racial and ethnic groups, but African-American youth, who make up 42% of Chicago’s youth population (ages 10-17), account for 79% of juvenile marijuana arrests in Chicago. Unfortunately, the disproportionate minority contact phenomenon is not limited to just marijuana arrests and spans across the entire criminal justice system.

How would you reduce or eliminate disproportionate minority contact in the Illinois justice system?

To reduce and eliminate disproportionate minority contact, we must have a clear understanding of the breadth of the problem. We need to partner with local officials to collect and analyze data that can improve the justice system, provide support to evaluate local initiatives, and share best practices across the state. I also support increasing accountability between law enforcement and the communities they serve by making the Traffic and Pedestrian Stop Statistical Study permanent and incentivizing data collection for all stops no matter the result.


8.     RE-ENTRY: Each year over 30,000 Illinois residents are released from the Illinois Department of Corrections, with nearly all returning to the same economically depressed communities in which they resided before their incarceration. Now over one million Illinoisans have some form of criminal record, which routinely interferes with one’s ability to take advantage of employment, housing and educational opportunities. That lack of access can create social and economic circumstances that result in illegal behavior. Consequently, nearly 50% of individuals released from Illinois Department of Corrections return to prison within three years, and fewer than 2% of the 425,000 individuals released between 1999 and 2015 have obtained and held a taxpaying job for two consecutive years after their release. Improving employment outcomes for people with criminal records through employment training and job assistance outside of prisons in the community is one of the most successful methods of improving the reentry of returning citizens to their communities and reducing recidivism.

How can the State of Illinois remove barriers in housing, education and employment for previously incarcerated individuals and reduce the recidivism rate? What programs would you support? Would you invest in skills training, re-entry services, and transportation for people with records to reduce unemployment, violence and poverty?

The overwhelming majority of people in prison will be released and will return to their communities. But the sad truth is that many of those individuals will end up back in prison. Roughly half of those released from an Illinois prison will return within three years. This is what happens when we do not prioritize rehabilitation and re-entry services. Too many formerly incarcerated people are returning to communities without restored social connections, economic opportunity, and access to affordable housing. Without that support, they are more likely to end up back in prison.

Our state government should partner with communities to help people released from prison thrive. We need to build strong social connections and create economic opportunity in our communities and that can’t just start when people are released. It means rehabilitative services, job training, and re-entry services that begin in prison and extend after release.

Expanding these programs in our prisons and in our communities will build that bridge between incarceration and re-entry. It will connect individuals to the social and economic opportunities they need to thrive and reduce recidivism. It’s a long-term investment in our state that will help lower future incarceration costs, which currently cost over $23,000 per inmate. Let’s spend money educating instead of incarcerating Illinoisans.

  • Prioritize rehabilitation services in prisons to reduce recidivism after release:
    • Connect people in prison early with evidence-based rehabilitative services including job training, education, mental health and substance abuse treatment.
    • Encourage and facilitate positive relationships between people in prison, their families, and their communities to reduce the likelihood of recidivism after release.
  • Create economic opportunity and strengthen our communities:
    • Create vibrant and thriving communities by investing in quality education, including preschool and quality childcare.
    • Ensure community business owners and entrepreneurs have access to the capital, training, and mentorship they need to thrive.
    • Reduce barriers to employment and expand community-based learning opportunities so people can build self-sufficient lives.
    • Expand stable housing and healthcare in all of our communities.
    • Help Illinoisans safely re-enter the workforce via a state re-entry employment program designed to place qualified people in state positions.