Pritzker names Lt. Gov. Stratton to lead criminal justice reform initiative
Emphasis includes reducing prison population, improving DOC training
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday, Feb. 11, named Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton to lead a new office that will coordinate the administration’s criminal justice reform initiatives, especially prison reform.
In an executive order, Pritzker established what he’s calling the “Justice, Equity and Opportunity Initiative,” or JEO, which will centralize and coordinate criminal justice reforms across a number of different state agencies, with particular emphasis on the state’s prison system and sentencing guidelines.
“This is needed because our justice system is not working,” Stratton said in a statement released by the governor’s office. “The JEO Initiative will move us from a strictly punitive system to one that examines the root causes of the issues we face while creating solutions that put community at the center.”
Pritzker noted the state spends roughly $1.3 billion a year for the Illinois Department of Corrections, which houses about 43,000 inmates in a prison system designed to hold only about 32,000.
The order spells out a number of general initiatives the administration wants to pursue to reduce the prison population such as developing “bias-free assessment tools” for judges to use to determine sentences.
It also suggests the need for improved training within the Department of Corrections, which has faced numerous lawsuits over alleged discrimination and lack of access to health care.
In addition, it points to the growing number of women in state prison, and the unique needs of that population, as well as the need for better educational programs within the state’s juvenile correctional system.
Beyond the prison system, the order calls for targeting poorer communities with economic development efforts that would improve access to professional licenses, state contracting opportunities, education and housing.
And it calls for improving relations between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve by reducing the use of excess force, civil asset forfeitures and vehicle impoundments.
Finally, the order also states that legalizing marijuana would be an economic benefit in communities that the administration said have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
“For Illinois to truly lead on criminal justice reform, we must bring real and lasting economic opportunity to every corner of our state. It’s no accident that this initiative puts Justice, Equity and, Opportunity side by side,” Pritzker said. “With decades of experience working to bring reform to our system of justice in Illinois, I can think of no better person to spearhead this initiative than our lieutenant governor, Juliana Stratton.”
The order calls on the new JEO office to report to the governor within 90 days with details about what it plans to accomplish in its first year, and then to file annual reports each Jan. 1 detailing what reform efforts have been put in place as well as the group’s plans for the upcoming year.