Illinois Justice Project

Question Three

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.

Lightfoot

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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.


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 City of Chicago must shift away from a law enforcement based approach to drug issues to a public health model.  The law enforcement model costs too much and is ineffective in creating positive outcomes and reducing recidivism for those who cycle in and out of the criminal justice system. 

Under my leadership as County Board President, I have demonstrated the importance of utilizing a public health model to help those who suffered from substance abuse. The extension of behavioral health, including mental health and substance abuse treatment, via the expansion of Medicaid through County Care has brought treatment into communities across Chicago, even during the current administration’s closing of much needed mental health clinics. 

The challenge is to build on this success by serving the most traumatized communities and aligning public safety efforts with public health goals.  Cook County’s success in reducing the jail population without a negative impact on public safety, rests in part on understanding arrestees’ need for treatment and support. 

 The specific policies needed to support the alignment of law enforcement and public health include deflecting people who abuse drugs into treatment, and supporting supervision and probation with behavioral health treatment.   Treatment must be available to everyone.  It must be recognized that addicts do have relapses and that a harsh response is counterproductive. The treatment options should include medically supported treatment to ensure that everyone has the best possible chance at a full recovery.

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?

Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) exists at every level of the criminal justice system and that can be seen not only when you view the data but when one visits the Cook County Jail, the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center or the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice.  I strongly believe that DMC can and must be addressed if we are going to achieve equity and opportunity for all residents in Chicago, no matter where you live.

There is no more glaring example of DMC than in our current drug code enforcement. For example, according to the ACLU, marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

To address and reduce DMC in Chicago, we must first be honest and transparent in talking about it and the negative impact it has had for many of our residents, particularly in black and brown communities. Second, we must provide ongoing racial biases training, support and resources for all criminal and public safety stakeholders so that they understand how their decisions and interaction with these communities have had a negative impact.  Finally, we know that treatment works to end addiction and the behaviors that addicts engage in to support their habit.  Providing treatment instead of harsh punishments for low level drug offenders makes sense for everyone regardless of race or gender.  It is through the drug laws that young people often first encounter the criminal justice system so reforming such laws will keep many from any criminal justice system involvement.  If they also receive treatment and support they will not be forced into crimes of survival which again greatly increases their chances of avoiding contact with the criminal justice system.

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.  

 It has been recommended by the State of Illinois Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing that there be misdemeanor amounts for all drugs.  It is nonsensical that possession of certain drugs must be charged as a felony even for the tiniest amount.  Getting drug offenders out of prison is important for several reasons.  One is that treatment is rarely available in prison.  Many drug offenders would do much better receiving treatment in the community than going to prison.  Illinois’ prisons are dangerously overcrowded.  Releasing addicts so they can receive treatment and services while living and working in the community will reduce drug addiction, increase public safety and save money.

 Equity, particularly racial equity has been the driving force for most of the work that I have done as County Board President. In my third administration, I have once again shown that leadership by drafting a strategic plan that expressly lays out how important racial equity is to the work of government both in terms of how we create policies and how we make budgetary decisions. From my work to reduce the jail population and the racial disparities inherent in that system to the legislative agenda that I have advanced to remove barriers to employment for young people, I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish. I know that as the Mayor, I can use that same framework to help achieve equity for all our residents in the City of Chicago.

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 support programs that deflect people from any contact with the criminal justice system with the goal of ensuring people get the treatment and support they need. As Cook County Board President, my office works with all the criminal justice stakeholders, the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County Health system to explore and implement deflection and diversion programs within the criminal justice system, particularly for those who struggle with mental health challenges.  The recurring problem that I see is that many diversion programs are not carefully enough designed to achieve their goals to minimize contact and deeper involvement in the system.  Unfortunately, all too often putting someone into a program means that he or she may be penalized too harshly for failures to comply with program requirements.  The reality is that overcoming addiction is a journey and having relapses or missing an appointment for treatment is a part of that journey.  If they are in a program that is supposed to keep them out of the criminal justice system, missing an appointment may put them in jail. In fact, missing an appointment may simply reflect that a person is poor and lacks resources not a deliberate challenge to the program.

Preckwinkle

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