The Coalition for Justice Reform distributed a criminal justice questionnaire to the two participants of the 2019 Chicago Mayoral Election that reached the runoff stage, Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle. The questions were compiled by the coalition, which is comprised of the following organizations dedicated to supporting criminal justice reform: the ACLU of Illinois, Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI Chicago), Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Chicago Urban League, Clergy for a New Drug Policy, Community Renewal Society, Illinois Justice Project and Safer Foundation
Lightfoot and Preckwinkle’s answers can be found by clicking the questions below.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
Do you support the creation of the Office of Violence Prevention? What is your opinion on public health approaches to reducing gun violence?
3. DRUG OFFENSES: 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?
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?
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.
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?
Would you support third-party oversight of the JISC?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?