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Illinois governor announces justice reform initiative

February 11, 2019

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday announced the creation of a new office that will address what he says is a broken justice system.

The Justice, Equity and Opportunity Initiative will be headed by Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton and is expected to look at criminal sentencing, education, poverty, and the link among the three.

“It’s time to modernize sentencing, especially for low-level drug offenses,” Pritzker said. “It’s time to reduce the recidivism rate and re-entry through a holistic approach that addresses opportunity both inside and outside of our prisons.”

Stratton said the JEO Initiative will move Illinois justice from a punitive system to one that examines the root causes of the issues the state faces.

Pritzker noted the state spends roughly $1.3 billion a year for the Department of Corrections, which houses about 43,000 inmates in a system made for about 32,000.

The governor’s order creating the new office spells out a number of general initiatives the administration will 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.

Stratton said part of the initiative will focus on the legalization of marijuana.

“As we work on legalizing the adult use of cannabis, we will examine how to repair the harm that the war on drugs has had on so many communities of color,” Stratton said.

Stratton said she had not spoken to Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan about the issue but would do so “if the need arises.”

Pritzker’s order creating the initiative calls for targeting poorer communities with economic development efforts that would improve access to professional licenses, state contracting opportunities, education and housing. It also calls for improving relations between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.

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