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Gov. Pritzker proposes to end cash bail, begin criminal justice reforms in Illinois

File Photo – Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker | Photo: Illinois Information Service.

Governor J.B. Pritzker released a set of principles for changing Illinois’ criminal justice system, including ending cash bail, reducing prison sentences and implementing police reform.

The seven proposed principles will be “foundational in the administration’s plans to take action” in partnership with the General Assembly, the governor’s office said.

Those principals including the following:

  • End the use of a cash bail system and limit pretrial detention to only those who are a threat to public safety.
  • Modernize sentencing laws on theft and drug offenses and use a public health approach to address mental health and addiction.
  • Reduce excessive lengths of stay in prison by providing pathways for people to earn opportunities for rehabilitation.
  • Prioritize rehabilitation and reduce the risk of recidivism by increasing access to housing and healthcare for returning residents.
  • Increase police accountability and transparency for police officers and police departments.
  • Update and strengthen statewide standards for use of force by police officers.
  • Improve interactions with police by decriminalizing minor non-violent offenses, improving police response to crowd control, and increasing language and disability access.

These principles build on the agenda outlined by Governor Pritzker and Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton in January of this year, at an event announcing the administration’s Justice, Equity, and Opportunity initiative.

“The governor commends the decades of tireless work by of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus and organizations and advocates across the state to bring Illinois to this point, and the Governor is resolutely committed to working in partnership with these leaders, the General Assembly, and Attorney General Kwame Raoul to bring about meaningful reform,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

“We’re building toward an Illinois that works for everyone – and criminal justice reform is a key element of that holistic approach. Together we will shape a more equitable system of justice that makes our state stronger and safer and expands opportunities for all our residents to improve their lives,” Pritzker said.

“At the state level alone, we spend billions of dollars a year keeping too many people in an overcrowded prison system that has proven itself too expensive, too punitive and wholly ineffective at keeping Illinois families safe,” Pritzker said.

He said that it is his hope that the nation will look to Illinois as a “leader in true equity and justice for generations to come.”

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“As I’ve always said, we cannot truly have justice without equity and opportunity. These principles will guide us on a path of repairing the historic harm caused by our justice system, especially in Black and Brown communities,” Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton said.

“Comprehensive justice reform will help to reverse the systemic cycles that tear apart families, lay barren communities, lead to overcrowded jails, put strains on criminal justice infrastructure, and burden taxpayers. Illinois is enacting change, and setting a standard, that illustrates how compassion in policy can positively impact our nation,” she added.

Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the Illinois Sheriff’s Association, said law enforcement groups were left out of the discussion.

“Quite honestly it is pretty disturbing to see the seven principles for an equitable criminal justice system being outlined with no conversation with those folks that are directly involved in the criminal justice process,” Kaitschuk said.

Kaitschuk said that the principle which relaxes sentencing laws on drug and theft offenses and decreases admissions into prison is the wrong approach.

“I don’t disagree that we have a public health crisis, but let’s put some money towards treatment and prevention before we just go ahead and start lifting the bar as it relates to the offense,” Kaitschuk said.

Kaitschuk said there needs to be a full conversation with all parties involved regarding reform.

“Let’s figure out how to work the problem as opposed to just issuing a press release saying ‘these are our seven pillars of what we are going to do’,” he said. “I guess that is how we govern today.”

The governor’s office said that Pritzker’s principles focus on a “holistic approach that addresses the structural flaws of a criminal justice system that disproportionately impacts people of color and often traps people in a cycle of incarceration and system-involvement.”

The governor also signed legislation that ensured that the 20,000 people detained pre-trial each year have an opportunity to vote while in detention.

Pritzker has already pardoned over 11,000 people for low-level cannabis offenses and more are expected over the coming months.

Kevin Bessler with The Center Square contributed to this report.


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