The Responding Candidates
The Coalition for Justice Reform distributed a criminal justice questionnaire to the six Democratic and two Republican candidates running for governor in the March 20 primary election. 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
Democratic candidates Daniel Biss, Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker responded to the questionnaire, and their answers can be found by clicking the questions below. If other candidates complete the questionnaire, we will add their responses.
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?
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?
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?
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?
5. BOND REFORM: 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?
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?
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?
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?