1. THE ROLE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM: Illinois residents, policy makers and advocates from all parts of the state and across the political spectrum have united to understand how to improve the criminal justice system . The current efforts are based on the well-defined proposition that an effective criminal justice system provides both fairness and safety for all people of the state, despite their color, creed, geographic location or economic standing.
The Office of the Illinois Attorney General is responsible for law enforcement and the equal protection of law for all citizens. What role will your administration play in the criminal justice reform movement?
My administration will play a leading role in the criminal justice reform movement. I have been an advocate for criminal justice reform throughout my career in public service. As a prosecutor, I successfully brought civil rights charges against a Chicago Police Department officer who (1) beat a helpless African American male who was handcuffed in a wheelchair and (2) then filed a false police report. Prior to filing charges, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office had failed to properly handle the incident. As a State Representative, I successfully passed legislation that allows for the recording of more custodial interrogations and provides standard procedures for eyewitness identifications. Moreover, I was a Commissioner on the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. Based on this history and experience, I recognize and understand the need for criminal justice reform and have demonstrated a commitment to fighting for it. I will continue this advocacy as Attorney General.
How would your approach be different from the current administration when it comes to justice reform and//oor how would it be similar? Please identify a particular policy or position that would be a focus of your criminal justice reform work as Attorney General.
The current administration does not advocate strongly enough for criminal justice reform.. As Attorney General,, I will not shy away from tough issues or issues that could labeled as “ soft on crime.” I have a record of doing what is right even if it is not politically popular. That is what we need from our next attorney general.
As Attorney General, I will continue to focus on reducing Illinois ’ prison population through many of the reforms recommended by the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform and ending wrongful convictions. Necessarily included within these reform initiatives are making sure that jails and prisons are not used as drug and mental health treatment facilities, fixing reentry policies and ensuring that only those who belong in prison end up there.
2. BOND REFORM: In July of 2017, former U.S Attorney General Eric Holder released a memo outlining how Cook County’s wealth - based pretrial detention scheme violates both the Illinois Bail Statute and U..SS Constitution.. Holder joins the chorus of attorneys, community organizations and policy groups that recognize that, too often, a person’s access to wealth is the deciding factor in determining whether he or she remains incarcerated after arrest.
Passage of the Bond Reform Act of 2017 by the 100th General Assembly reaffirms the already existing Illinois Criminal Code ’ss protections against the misuse of the bond system.. Nevertheless,, the over use of cash bond , which bases pretrial release decisions on wealth and not risk, still continues across the state.
The Attorney General is defending the state’s bond system in Robinson v. Lewis, a case that challenges the constitutionality of the practice. The case is being heard in the Chancery Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County.
Do you agree with the Holder memo, that opines that traditional use of bond in Illinois uses intentionally unaffordable cash bonds as a mean to keep people incarcerated in a pretrial setting and thus is a constitutionally unacceptable practice, or do you support the Attorney General’s current defense of the system?
I agree with the Holder memo and will work to end cash bail in Illinois. People should be detained if they are a threat to society or a flight risk, not because they do not have a certain sum of money. Cash bail is unjust and has a negative impact on our criminal justice system in that people who are detained pretrial have a higher incidence of recidivism.
If elected, what would you do to help improve bond court practice and outcomes across the state?
As set forth above, I will work to end cash bail and implement a detention process that focuses on public safety and flight risk.
3. RECORD EXPUNGEMENT: Over one million Illinois residents have a criminal record of some kind. Many of these people are attempting to get past their previous missteps and live productive lives, but are hampered by the barriers these criminal records have on their ability to move forward.
The Illinois legislature has worked to address the issue, most recently expanding the number of individuals who are eligible for sealing relief. However, much remains to be done. For example, the practice of private companies purchasing criminal records from governments and making the information available to the public through the internet (despite not being in compliance with new state laws restricting access) has gone unchecked in some instances.
What would you do to address the barriers criminal records present in acquiring safe housing, attaining life - improving education and securing gainful employment?
As part of my commitment to improving the reentry process, I would like to work with criminal justice reform experts on ways to improve access to safe housing, education and gainful employment by someone with a criminal record. In the past, I have supported ban-the-box legislation and more widespread sealing of criminal records. However, I have always thought that expungement is a better avenue than sealing. I would like to make the expungement process easier and more efficient for those who are entitled to it. Someone should not have to pay an attorney and court fees to get a record expunged.
In particular, how would you direct the Attorney General’s Office to enforce the current laws on the books that seek to achieve records relief?
It bothers me that the General Assembly constantly passes new laws to require the enforcement of existing laws.. As Attorney General, I will strictly enforce the laws that are on the books and make sure that those companies that are illegally publishing people’s records are properly punished. Once it is known that Illinois will take action against these companies, the companies will stop engaging in the unlawful conduct.
4. POLICE MISCONDUCT: In August of 2017, the current Illinois Attorney General sued the City of Chicago, contending that reforms by the city are not sufficient to prevent the Chicago Police Department from continuing a pattern of excessive and deadly force that disproportionately hurts African Americans and Latinos.
Statewide, in the limited circumstances when a law enforcement officer uses excessive and deadly force and needs to be brought to justice, local state’s attorneys find themselves in a difficult situation of having to prosecute members of the same local police department or agency that they rely on to serve as the investigators and witnesses in the overwhelming majority of their cases. While state’s attorney’s offices all across the state are willing to take on this task, it is certainly not an optimal situation and can produce, or be perceived to produce, poor results.
The Illinois Criminal Code grants the Attorney General the power to assist or preside over the trial of any person charged with a crime in Illinois. How would you direct your office to participate in current Attorney General’s lawsuit against the city on police reform? Do you support a consent decree?
I support a consent decree, and my administration would pursue the lawsuit to the extent it is not resolved prior to taking office. With respect to the consent decree, the devil is in the details. It is not enough to have any “consent decree” and declare “mission accomplished” The consent decree should require specific reforms related to use of force, racial profiling, internal investigations, and officer -involved shootings, among other things. Moreover, the community must be involved in the process of enforcing the consent decree. Further, I will look into reforming police departments outside of Chicago – ideally, through voluntary consent decrees. However, if litigation is necessary, I will pursue it.
Do recent personnel changes within the Chicago Police Department and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability or the introduction of the new Attorney General website on the consent decree affect your opinion on the need to reform?
Do you believe that special prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office should be used to handle select cases of excessive and deadly force, or do you support continued reliance on local state’s attorney's to handle these delicate cases?
I believe in the need for special prosecutors. The relationship between state’s attorneys and police department s can be too cozy. In order for the public to trust the process, it needs to see and believe that those investigating and prosecuting police are truly independent. Special prosecutors allow for this happen.
5. FINES AND FEES: In 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court commissioned the Statutory Court Fee Task Force, which made findings and recommendations to address the issue of fines and fees in court proceedings. The 15-member Task Force included active and retired judges, court clerks, a Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, members of the private bar and elected officials from both political parties.
The Task Force found that assessments imposed on individuals in both criminal and civil cases create severe and disproportionate impacts on low and moderate-income Illinois residents, and that there is excessive variation for the same types of proceedings across the state.
Do you agree with the findings of the Statutory Court Fee Task Force?
I need to further study the findings of the Statutory Court Fee Task Force, however, I agree that fines and fees disproportionately impact low and moderate-income residents with sometime devastating consequences. I also believe that the above-described variation in the imposition of fines and fees exists.
If so, what role will you play in reducing the impact of fines and fees on low and middle-class Illinois residents ? How would you accomplish this?
The imposition of fines and fees should be objective unless a judge can provide a specific reason for departing from the objective scale. As Attorney General, I will advocate for a fair and just assessment system based on objective criteria that take into account the impact the fines and fees will have on the individual, as well as the ability to pay.
6. GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION: Gun violence in urban areas across the state continue s to reach crisis levels. While Illinois has had a vibrant debate on the effectiveness of increasing sentencing for possession of guns by repeat gun offenders, nearly everyone on both sides of that debate agrees that we must do more than increase criminal sentencing penalties to see significant safety improvements.
Stemming the tide of illegal guns into victimized communities is commonly identified as a key priority in stopping gun violence. A closer examination of urban gun violence reveals that many young men and boys on the path to violence have themselves been victims. The lines continue to blur between perpetrator and victim in the urban gun violence context.
As Attorney General, what would you do to improve our state’s efforts in preventing gun violence? What would you do differently from the current Attorney General to stem the flow of illegal guns in to communities hit hard by gun violence?
I am proud of the efforts I have taken as a State Representative with respect to reducing gun violence. However, I know more work must be done. To date, I have repeatedly defeated the NRA, passing assault weapons bans throughout my legislative district. Further, I co-sponsored the Gun Dealer Licensing Act, and the legislation to ban bump stocks.
To end gun violence, we need to look beyond gun laws. We need to address the socio-economic issues that lead to gun violence. We need to improve the public education system and offer more job training. We need to improve avenue s for reentry.
As Attorney General, I will passionately advocate for a comprehensive solution to the gun violence epidemic. The current administration has been too quiet on the issue.
In terms of stopping the flow of illegal guns to communities hard hit by gun violence, I believe the gun dealer licensing act with assist with this. However, we need national laws that put the same restrictions on all states. As Attorney General, I will advocate to Congress to pass these needed laws.
Given that the Attorney General’s Office is a major stakeholder in supporting crime victims and that, in the past, support has largely gone to a non-diverse set of victims of crime, how might you as Attorney General support broadening the idea of who is a crime victim in order to break the cycle of violence?
As Attorney General, I will recognize that an offender today may have once been a victim or vice versa . Someone who is victimized must have access to victim support. The cycle of violence cannot be broken if we ignore or mistreat victims.. As was done at the U.S Attorney’s Office in Chicago when I worked there , everyone working in the Attorney General’s office will know that victims and victim resources are a priority and integral part of everyone’s job. Failure to properly work with victims and victim resources would be grounds for discipline.
7. SENTENCING RETROACTIVITY: In his first month in office in 2015, Governor Bruce Rauner issued an executive order creating the bipartisan Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, which is comprised of leaders from the law enforcement,, public service,, academia and the General Assembly. The Commission was directed to reduce Illinois prison population 25%% by 2025 and delivered 27 actionable recommendations..
With an Illinois prison population still over 42,500 people, many advocates argue that reforms that seek to achieve serious reductions to prison population must include both changes to sentencing law that effect the pipeline of those coming in, but also must explore retroactive reductions in sentences for those already in prison . Many of these individuals were sentenced under now abandoned, so-called “ tough-on-crime ” policies that have been rejected by the modern approach to criminal justice and that the “tough-on-crime” policies produced detrimental social and safety outcomes.
Despite a diverse group of state s such as Louisiana, Colorado and Maryland passing retroactive sentencing reforms in the past few years, the current Attorney General has declined opining on their legality in Illinois, which has blocked legislative retroactive sentencing reforms.
Do you agree with the need to achieve the goal of reducing the prison population 25%% by 2025 as outlined by the Governor and his commission? How can this reduction be achieved safely?
Yes, I agree. As a member of the Commission, I believe the General Assembly should enact the reforms recommended by the Commission.
What is your opinion on the legality of retroactive sentencing reforms?
I have publicly stated in committee hearings that I believe retroactive sentencing reforms are legal.. The State’s Attorneys Association (through Matt Jones) takes a different and unsupported view of the issue. Unfortunately, that opinion carries too much weight with legislators. As Attorney General, I will be an offsetting counterbalance to the misinformation often provided by the State’s Attorneys Association.
The Illinois Criminal Code defines the responsibility of the Attorney General to include giving legal or constitutional opinions on issues relating to criminal law. If elected, would you be willing to issue an official legal opinion supporting the legality of passing laws which address retroactive sentencing?