Criminal Justice Reform
For many years at the beginning of my career, I watched time and again as politicians trying to prove their “tough on crime” credentials ratcheted up penalties and creating permanent punishments and barriers to reentry for those in the criminal justice system. In my time at the office of the Cook County State’s Attorney, I was proud to be tasked with helping to turn that tide, supporting policies that created diversion programs, alternatives to incarceration, restorative justice practices, and smarter drug policies.
As a legislator, one of my primary missions is to implement smart, bipartisan criminal justice reform. We lock up too many people, keep them for too long, and make it too difficult for them to reintegrate back into society when their release finally comes. Rather than act as a deterrent to recidivism, these punitive measures ensure that youthful mistakes become a lifetime of difficulty getting jobs and finding housing. Often, people in that desperate situation feel they have no choice but to turn back to crime.
In recent years, we have passed legislation increasing job opportunities for ex-offenders, expanding eligibility for record sealing, reducing overly harsh sentences, improving conditions and opportunities in prison facilities, and more.
During this legislative session, I passed a significant piece of legislation known as the CESSA Act, which ensures that individuals experiencing mental health crises will be treated by mental health professionals instead of police. I crafted legislation that allows for resentencing when a defendant’s original sentence no longer advances justice. I even authored legislation aimed at clarifying what constitutes criminal stalking and co-sponsored a monumental bill to prevent false confessions from minors. I am adamant about advancing reforms that promote fairness and equity in our criminal justice system. Below are criminal justice reform bills I have either led on or sponsored during my time as a legislator.
Community Emergency Services & Support Act
This bill I crafted in partnership with Access Living and coalition partners, also known as the Community Emergency Services and Support Act (CESSA), would allow mental health professionals — not police — to treat citizens experiencing mental health crises. This bill requires that 9-1-1 call centers and providers of emergency services coordinate with mobile mental and behavioral health services. CESSA will be instrumental in bringing meaningful changes to how authorities respond to mental health emergencies, while also ensuring that people who require immediate mental health services are treated by trained professionals.
Resentencing Task Force Act
The task force created in this act is responsible for studying innovative ways to reduce Illinois’ prison population through resentencing motions. This second look at sentencing is a critical right for incarcerated people serving unjustly long sentences and can be a tool at reducing our prison population. The task force provides recommendations informing legislation to the General Assembly and Governor.
Package of Public Safety Reforms
This bill is aimed at creating structural criminal justice reform to advance transparency and accountability in law enforcement through a variety of requirements and improvements. For instance, this bill modernizes sentencing laws, requires the use of body cameras, improves de-escalation and mental health training for law enforcement, bans the use of chokeholds and other extreme actions, and amplifies training standards for law enforcement. I am a proud supporter of this bill and the Legislative Black Caucus’ dedication to making these much-needed reforms to our criminal justice system.
Clarifying the Crime of Stalking
This bill was an initiative of State’s Attorney Kim Foxx in conjunction with organizations supporting survivors of domestic violence and assault. This legislation clarifies that verbal threats constitute stalking and unprotected speech; in other words, it clarifies that a person commits stalking when they knowingly and repeatedly make threats and are aware of the threatening nature of their speech. Stalking has only relatively recently been characterized as a criminal offense; thus, having a bill like this that outlines the parameters and consequences of stalking will help us in examining these serious crimes moving forward.
SB 2129 amends the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 such that the State’s Attorney of the county in which the defendant was sentenced may petition the sentencing court to resentence the offender “if the original sentence no longer advances the interests of justice.” The court may resentence the defendant after considering the defendant’s disciplinary records, risk for future violence, and any other changes in circumstance since the inmate’s original sentence. I have reintroduced this bill multiple times during my tenure in office and I am relieved to see that these individuals now have a mechanism to reduce their sentences.
Privacy of Child Victims
I serve as the Primary House Sponsor of this bill (as well as its sister bill) to amend the Privacy of Child Victims of Criminal Sexual Offenses Act. In an effort to protect the identities of children who are victims of criminal sexual offenses, this amendment ensures that the identity of a child victim will be excluded in law enforcement agency records and all circuit court records.
Proper Compensation for Community Service
This bill amends the Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act by clarifying that the court may determine the period of public or community service the defendant must perform; however, in no event can the hourly rate of public or community service be equivalent to less than the minimum wage of the State and that performance of a public or community service may rather than shall be a condition of probation, conditional discharge or supervision. This simple legislative change could make a monumental difference in the lives of defendants who are struggling to support themselves or their families.
Privacy of Adult Victims
This is the sister bill of SB 2339. SB 2340 specifically creates the Privacy of Adult Victims of Criminal Sexual Offenses Act, and ensures that the identity of adult victims will be excluded in law enforcement agency records and all circuit court records. SB 2339 and SB 2340 come on the heels of a CBS news story outlining how CBS investigators came upon private information of child victims while reading case files. Together, SB 2339 and SB 2340 are crucial in providing privacy to both child victims and adult victims of criminal sexual offenses.
Supervised Medical Relief & Care For Incarcerated Individuals
Previously incapacitated and dying individuals in Illinois prisons were only able to be released early through clemency by the Governor. However, this system is almost never utilized in our state. The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the fact that this system is simply not in the best interests of justice. This pandemic has reminded us that individuals experiencing medical emergencies — incarcerated or not — must be given the treatment and care that they deserve. That is why I was a staunch supporter of this bill to create a path through which these individuals could petition the Prison Review Board for mandatory supervised relief, in appropriate cases.
Cannabis & Felony Expungement
HB4392 amends the Criminal Identification Act to protect the right to petition for felony expungement or sealing for people who have tested positive for the presence of cannabis in drug testing within the 30 days prior to filing a petition. Illinois has legalized cannabis and should not continue to penalize users of a legal product.
Rethinking School Interventions
This bill amends the School Code to permit the State Board of Education to create a grant program for school districts and special education facilities that promote positive behavioral interventions and culturally sensitive, restorative approaches to punishment. It prioritizes funding to institutions that submit a plan to significantly reduce or eliminate harsh punishments such as physical restraint and isolated time out.
Practicing Restorative Justice
This amendment to the Code of Civil Procedure ensures the privilege of communications in restorative justice proceedings. This bill effectively encourages restorative justice practices and marks a meaningful effort at rebricking the Illinois criminal justice system and exercising restorative justice fundamentals in our courts.
Instead of being provided safety and support, some survivors of sexual assault, sex trafficking, and domestic abuse are sent to prison—sometimes for the crimes of their abusers. In 2015, Illinois created a path to request resentencing for incarcerated survivors. However, technical ambiguities in the policy lead to only four known survivors being able to gain the intended relief of the law. HB 4847 creates a “fix” to align the law with the original legislative purpose. It also allows for coercion and compulsion defenses to accountability and removes outdated references to the death penalty. The bill includes survivors of “gender-based violence”—not just domestic violence—as eligible for relief. This grants survivors of sexual assault and trafficking more robust opportunities for resentencing.
I was the chief sponsor of this bill which sufficiently defines what qualifies for a resentencing hearing for a survivor of gender-based violence who are eligible to petition. This bill provides that survivors of gender-based violence are not guilty of an offense by reason that they performed the offense under the compulsion or threat of death or great bodily harm, and feared that they, or a child or spouse, would be subject to harm should they not perform the offense. This bill is vital in supporting survivors of gender-based violence.