JB’s Criminal Justice Reform Plan

It’s time to imagine a criminal justice system that gives Illinoisans a chance to reach their full potential. It’s time to end mass incarceration and get our communities the support they need to thrive. It’s time to move away from a system of imprisonment and build a true system of justice.

As governor, I will propose an office of Criminal Justice Reform and Economic Opportunity, spearheaded by my pick for Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton. This office will focus on evidence-based solutions to move us forward. We will build economic opportunity to keep people out of the criminal justice system and help Illinoisans transition back to their communities. We’re going to support youth and adults so they don’t enter the justice system in the first place. We’re going to reform sentencing to match the offense and support rehabilitation. Finally, we’re going to reduce gun violence with the public health approach we need to keep our communities safe.

Long term, we must reverse Bruce Rauner’s systemic disinvestment in communities across our state. Bruce Rauner decimated human services in Illinois, blocked public education funding, and undermined economic opportunity for so many of our communities. These are the services and foundations that enable communities to build better lives and as governor, I will fight every day to reverse this damage.

My plan focuses on four key areas:

  1. Legalize marijuana and modernize sentencing, especially for low level drug offenses.
  2. Reduce recidivism and re-entry by removing economic barriers around employment, affordable housing, human services, and family reunification.
  3. Reform our juvenile justice system and end the criminalization of children by investing in court diversion programs and restorative justice alternatives to incarceration.
  4. Treat gun violence like a public health epidemic and make police more accountable to the communities they serve.

Legalize Marijuana and Modernize Sentencing

It is time to envision a criminal justice system that delivers justice to victims, rehabilitates individuals, and builds safer communities. That’s not where we are right now. Decades of systemic racism, underfunded public schools, and excessive sentences have led to mass incarceration across Illinois. Our prisons are operating at 134 percent capacity and there are nearly 43,000 individuals behind bars – but this is about more than statistics and numbers. This is about systemic disinvestment in communities and families, African American men being incarcerated at staggering rates, and a broken system in desperate need of reform.

We must start with Illinois’ sentencing laws. We need sentencing guidelines that not only match the offense, but also work to deter crime and build safer communities. We also need to reform the bail system and partner with communities across the state to bolster successful diversion programs and robust data collection.

As governor, I will work to reverse the foundational causes of mass incarceration. Under Bruce Rauner, we’ve seen steady disinvestment in our communities, human services decimated, and economic opportunity for our middle class and those striving to get into the middle class disappear. Yet, Illinois will spend over $1.4 billion in FY17 incarcerating its citizens. We need to modernize our approach to sentencing to focus on public safety and smart sentencing. The savings obtained from modernizing the sentencing system should be invested directly back to our communities to fund programs that reduce incarceration in the first place and expand opportunity for all Illinois communities.

  • Reform sentencing laws to better match the offense:
    • Legalize marijuana, lower the penalties for certain drug offenses, and adjust the punishments for other non-violent offenses.
    • Reform excessive sentencing, reduce the use of mandatory-minimums, and allow judges greater discretion to use probation for certain offenses.
  • Protect people from being unfairly detained and imprisoned:
    • Abolish the monetary bail system and replace it with a validated risk assessment tool that is fair to all of our communities.
    • Stop the unjust application of fees and fines that burden those who can’t afford to pay and can lead to further incarceration.
  • Partner with communities to divert people from the justice system:
    • Strengthen local diversion programs and promote collaboration to share best practices and replicate what’s working.
    • Partner with local officials to collect and analyze data, provide support to evaluate local initiatives, and share best practices across the state.

Reducing Recidivism

The overwhelming majority of people in prison will be released and will return to their communities. But the sad truth is that many of those individuals will end up back in prison. Roughly half of those released from an Illinois prison will return within three years. This is what happens when we do not prioritize rehabilitation and re-entry services. Too many formerly incarcerated people are returning to communities without restored social connections, economic opportunity, and access to affordable housing. Without that support, they are more likely to end up back in prison.

Our state government should partner with communities to help people released from prison thrive. We need to build strong social connections and create economic opportunity in our communities and that can’t just start when people are released. It means rehabilitative services, job training, and re-entry services that begin in prison and extend after release.

Expanding these programs in our prisons and in our communities will build that bridge between incarceration and re-entry. It will connect individuals to the social and economic opportunities they need to thrive and reduce recidivism. It’s a long-term investment in our state that will help lower future incarceration costs, which currently cost over $23,000 per inmate. Let’s spend money educating instead of incarcerating Illinoisans.

  • Prioritize rehabilitation services in prisons to reduce recidivism after release:
    • Connect people in prison early with evidence-based rehabilitative services including job training, education, mental health and substance abuse treatment.
    • Encourage and facilitate positive relationships between people in prison, their families, and their communities to reduce the likelihood of recidivism after release.
  • Create economic opportunity and strengthen our communities:
    • Create vibrant and thriving communities by investing in quality education, including preschool and quality childcare.
    • Ensure community business owners and entrepreneurs have access to the capital, training, and mentorship they need to thrive.
    • Reduce barriers to employment and expand community-based learning opportunities so people can build self-sufficient lives.
    • Expand stable housing and healthcare in all of our communities.
    • Help Illinoisans safely re-enter the workforce via a state re-entry employment program designed to place qualified people in state positions.

Juvenile Justice Reform

Exposure to trauma, neglect, sexual assault, or abuse as a child can negatively impact adolescent brain development. Too often in our juvenile justice system, trauma is ignored and adolescent behavior is criminalized. We need to do more to ensure juvenile justice agencies are trauma informed and culturally competent. We also need to make sure they reflect the latest science indicating that significant brain development occurs well into a person’s twenties. This is particularly true in the area of the brain that controls risk-taking and impulsivity.

While adolescents are more likely to take risks and behave impulsively, their brains are also more open and responsive to education and rehabilitation. Recognizing this, we should focus on rehabilitative alternatives to prosecution and incarceration in our juvenile justice system.

Keeping adolescents out of the system will not only improve their own well-being, it also frees up resources we can use to invest in education and building community capacity. In 2016, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice spent $172,000 annually to incarcerate each youth. That is a staggering 29 times more than effective community-based alternatives to incarceration that cost an average of only $6,000 per youth, per year.

  • Reform state agencies working with children to reflect the latest science:
    • Ensure state agencies are trauma-informed, culturally competent, and responsive to the latest science on adolescent brain development.
  • Build community capacity and invest in protective factors that make communities strong:
    • Increase state funding for public education, invest in early childhood education, expand access to quality healthcare with a public option plan, and restore and expand investments in after-school programs.
    • Reverse Bruce Rauner’s damage to human service agencies across our state by properly funding effective evidence-based programs like home visitation for at-risk youth, community-based mental health, and violence prevention and intervention.
  • Keep families intact by diverting youth involvement with the juvenile justice system:
    • Expand evidence-based youth diversion programs that address mental health, substance use, trauma, and other needs that may lead to negative outcomes. Partner with municipalities in the use of restorative justice as an alternative to prosecution and incarceration of adolescents.

A Public Health Approach to Gun Violence and Holding Law Enforcement Accountable

Gun violence is a public health epidemic. It kills people, destroys families, and rips apart our communities. Recognizing violence as a health epidemic and building safer communities must be at the center of any plan to reduce gun violence. Like all epidemic diseases, the treatment must include interruption, risk reduction, and a change in community norms so that everyone can feel safe in their own communities.

There is no single cause for this epidemic and there is no single solution. Access to guns and where they come from is one factor. Over half of guns recovered by the Chicago Police Department can be traced to a state outside of Illinois. Without better data collection and law enforcement coordination across the state, it’s hard to know the same about crime guns recovered from Peoria and East St. Louis to Cairo. That’s a problem.

Systemic disinvestment in our communities leading to adverse economic outcomes is also a key factor. Unemployment in the five Chicago communities most affected by gun violence is as high as 35%. Unemployment in other regions of the state most affected by gun violence exceeds the state average too. This has only been compounded by Bruce Rauner’s failed leadership. His 736-day budget crisis decimated funding for violence prevention, after-school programs, and mental health services.

We need to fight for all communities to be healthy and safe, and we need to partner with those already doing this work. As governor, I will work with all communities affected by gun violence. Together, we will lead efforts to treat gun violence as a public health epidemic, rebuild healthy communities, increase firearm safety, and support the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

  • Treat gun violence as a public health epidemic:
    • Empower the Illinois Department of Public Health to expand their treatment of gun violence as a public health epidemic.
    • Fight for public health research on gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at the federal level.
    • Focus on prevention and intervention by investing in community programs that interrupt violence and encourage non-violent conflict resolution.
  • Rebuild healthy communities:
    • Restore funding for community organizations and human services programs. These services are critical to prevent violence, disrupt violence through after school and mental health services, treat those most at risk, and change community norms.
    • Create economic opportunity in neighborhoods most affected by gun violence by increasing access to capital and training for and expanding education opportunities for youth.
    • Partner with localities to develop conflict resolution programs for our children.
  • Increase firearm safety:
    • Implement universal background checks for every gun sale in Illinois.
    • Make a legal violence protection order available so that families can step in to protect loved ones from harming themselves and others.
    • Ban assault weapons, high capacity magazines, and bump stocks in Illinois to help prevent mass shootings.
    • Support and sign a gun dealer licensing bill to ensure firearms are sold in a safe and responsible manner.
    • Create and lead a consortium of regional states committed to reducing gun trafficking across our state border. This will also allow law enforcement agencies to share data to help track the flow of illegal guns.
    • Create a dedicated gun crime investigation unit within state police that coordinates with local police departments to focus on illegal gun trafficking and gun crime.
    • Secure federal funding to improve background check records reporting.
    • Create an inter-agency working group to evaluate the state’s progress in providing prohibiting records to the federal NICS background check system.
    • Ensure all domestic violence and drug abuse prohibiting records are pre-validated and uploaded to the appropriate background check systems in a timely manner.
  • Support the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve:

    • Increase accountability between law enforcement and the communities they serve by making the Traffic and Pedestrian Stop Statistical Study permanent and incentivizing data collection for all stops no matter the result.
    • Implement continuing education training for law enforcement that is culturally competent, evidence-based, and a routine component of professional development. We also need to ensure this training includes instruction on de-escalation tactics, proper use of force, and community intervention.
    • Support state and local law enforcement officers by ensuring they receive proper mental health services for any trauma they may experience.


This is our plan to build healthy and safe communities across our state. With Juliana Stratton at the helm, the Office of Criminal Justice Reform and Economic Opportunity will build a system of justice that reflects the values of Illinois. That’s a system that diverts youth and adults from incarceration in the first place, modernizes sentencing, encourages rehabilitation, works to reduce gun violence, and creates economic opportunity. We’re ready to bring our vibrant educational institutions, faith groups, businesses, and human service providers together to get all Illinoisans the support they need to thrive. Most importantly, we’re ready to partner with the organizations and advocates already doing this work and give all of our communities a seat at the table. We can only move forward together. I hope you’ll join us.

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