Criminal Justice Reform

Criminal Justice Reform

We are spending far too many of our tax dollars for far too little effectiveness.  When I worked in the Cook County SA’s office, I saw first hand  how our criminal justice system is failing victims, taxpayers, those tasked with protecting us and even criminals.We have to promote tough policies that go after gun traffickers and those who prey on our children while implementing compassionate and sensible laws that don’t lock people up for non violent or petty crimes such as drug possession – costing taxpayers millions of dollars and exacerbating a broken system. 

We must do away with the cash bail system for non-violent offenses.  In today’s world, even the smallest charge could have long-lasting and heinous consequences.  When someone is arrested, even for a minor or non-violent charge, they are taken in for processing, put into holding, taken before a judge for arraignment (which could be up to 48 hours later), and if they are not granted bail, or they cannot afford it, then they will languish in jail for weeks, months, and sometimes years, waiting for their trial.  In the meantime, they have lost their job, lost their home, they may lose their family, and all before they’ve ever been convicted of a crime – of which they may well be found not guilty. That is simply wrong, and it must stop.   

We must eliminate the “felony checkbox” on employment forms.  The idea behind our system is that once someone who is convicted of a crime has served their sentence, they re-enter society as rehabilitated.  Unfortunately, the reality for many is that even after they have been released, they must now check a box on employment forms saying that they have been convicted of a felony, which often immediately and automatically disqualifies them for many forms of employment.  In effect, the felony sentence becomes a life sentence, even once someone has served their time. This leads to more people being unable to secure employment, and end up as part of our homeless population, or reoffending with petty theft or drug dealing because they’re not allowed any better job, forcing them back into the prison system. 

We must expand the use of Restorative Justice and Drug Treatment programs.  Studies have consistently shown that programs of Restorative Justice and drug treatment programs are far more effective and less expensive than simple incarceration.  These programs keep the non-violent offenders from being locked in with the violent offenders (and becoming more violent as a means of survival). These programs allow the offender to directly see the impact of their actions on the victims, and counsel them away from repeating those actions.  Not only are these programs more successful at preventing recidivism but are also less expensive than locking these people in prisons, thus saving our tax dollars.

Some crime stems from economic necessity, and some stem from mental illness.  Locking people in prison will not solve the underlying reason why some crimes were committed in the first place.  If we provide the right economic opportunities to those who want it, and provide the mental health treatment others need, then we can try to eliminate the crime in the first place.  This not only means fewer of our neighbors will be a victim of crime in the first place, but also saves taxpayers some of the massive cost of the criminal justice system.