7 Guiding Principles

J.B. Pritzker announced 7 guiding principles to build a more equitable criminal justice system.

“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. 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.”

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Equitable Criminal Justice System

Governor JB Pritzker today proposed 7 guiding principles…

• End the use of the 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.

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THE STIGMA OF BEING LABELED A VIOLENT OFFENDER

My brother Aaron, a violent felon, is neither my brother nor violent. The fact that these two descriptors aren’t technically accurate is basically irrelevant. In practice, they function as truth.

I was reminded of this last July when my dad called me from the county courthouse.

“How’d it go?” I asked, but I already knew it was bad news. If Aaron had been released, it would’ve been his voice on the line.

“The judge gave him 90 more days,” my dad said.

“But I thought—”

“Yeah, well. The judge agreed to that before she knew he was a violent felon.” He paused. “I saw her sentence a couple of guys to eight years. Young guys. He got lucky.” His voice was a tangle of sadness and anger and relief.

I’ve worked in criminal justice reform long enough that phrases like violent felon have largely been stripped of their emotional content. But this moment was personal, and hearing the term was jarring. For a second I thought my father must be talking about someone else.

An imprecise, capricious label handed down by the criminal justice system can mark a person for life.

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FIELD OF BROKEN DREAMS

A person who finds himself freshly recruited by the Texas criminal justice system into the slave labor force of its many state penitentiaries will soon find they have been thrown into a time warp.

As I made my way deeper into this system, in 1981, I found myself bound for a prison called Central Unit, to be my new home for the next 40 years.

The bus trip there was a true pain, since we had been handcuffed and essentially herded into a rolling cage. Soon, my senses told me we were getting close to the place where I was born, and it dawned on me fully when I saw the Imperial Sugar refinery.

I was born in Sugar Land, Texas, and now I’d be in its prison.

We slowed down on Highway 6, right after we passed a small airport and turned down a long straight road. On one side I could see houses for the ranked officials of the corrections department; on the other were fields of men dressed in white, carrying massive hoes called “aggies.”

They were in a line, “flat-weedin’,” as I would find out.

Armed guards sat on horses around them, with big straw cowboy hats, spurs, and aviator glasses, meant to shield their eyes from the Texas sun but also to keep the men from seeing who they were looking at. Even from the noisy bus I could hear the “field bosses” yelling and cussing at their unpaid workers and threatening to shoot them.

This, I would find out, was normal.

At the end of the road (which is kind of symbolic, for most prisoners in Texas are literally at the end of a road) sat the prison I would be at: a huge, white-bricked building with gun towers, razor-ribboned fences … the works.

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