Closed Door Election Retains Cook County Chief Judge: Now What?

The election for one of the most important roles in our justice system has come and gone. This post aims to cover the media coverage, significance, and ongoing controversies related to the Office of the Chief Judge at this critical time.

The September 15th election of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County – the biggest unified court system in the world – has come and gone. The Chicago Tribune and other mainstream media outlets made a laudable effort at keeping us informed in the days and weeks leading up to the election. In a moment of decimated newsrooms handling a flurry of election year reporting and high-profile police reform and accountability efforts, the media deserves credit for designating significant (virtual) ink to telling the public about the election of the Chief Judge and why it matters so much when we, the public, have little voice in selecting the person for the job.

On the day before the election, the Chicago Tribune reminded the tax payers of Cook County that, “At stake is a position that holds great sway over one of the nation’s largest judicial systems, exerting deep influence over cases ranging from traffic violations to murder trials” and also Who controls Cook County’s massive court system is important; an ineffective system can harm those who pass through it and cost taxpayers greatly.”

On the day of the election, 232 of the 241 voting eligible judges cast ballots, and incumbent Chief Judge Tim Evans was re-elected by a mere 26 votes. Media coverage in the weeks and days leading up to the election was unprecedented and marked by flashpoints that we as Cook County residents should not forget. The press put real effort into prying open the black box of our vast and normally opaque court system. Let’s pry it open further by taking a look at what we learned, what to expect next, and what we should keep watching.

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Image: ABC7

The context

This latest election was considered the most serious challenge to Evans’s leadership since he became Chief Judge in 2001. One day before the election, a long-time political observer noted, “There is obviously a rebellion going on.” Evans faced challenger Tom Allen, a current judge and former alderman. Sandra Ramos, a current judge and former assistant state’s attorney and criminal defense lawyer withdrew her candidacy 2 days before the election took place.

Evans is a longtime figure in Chicago politics and a former alderman who lost the 1989 mayoral race to Richard M. Daley. Elected to City Council in 1973, he later served as floor leader for Mayor Harold Washington in the early 1980s. After Washington’s death in 1987, Evans made his first unsuccessful bid for mayor. Later, after losing his council seat, Evans ran successfully for circuit court judge in 1992. Nine years later, he defeated four challengers to become Cook County’s chief judge. The Tribune notes that, “Today, Evans heads a sprawling system that has 13 courthouses, with about 1.2 million criminal and civil cases pending at any given time. Besides the 386 circuit and associate judges, Evans supervises close to 2,700 employees and also heads the county juvenile temporary detention center and probation department. The court’s 2016 budget is nearly $236 million.”

Recap of controversy

Thanks to the Tribune’s outline and issues previously covered in this blog, we don’t have to look far for a synopsis of past issues originating from the Office of the Chief Judge.

  • Shielding Embarrassing Cases: A 2012 investigation discovered judges improperly hiding from public scrutiny embarrassing court cases involving politicians, athletes, wealthy businessmen and others.
  • Losing Track Of Probationers: In 2013, local media broke that the Adult Probation Department had lost track of hundreds of probationers and had overlooked curfew violations and new crimes by their clients. After three months, Evans made leadership changes.
  • Armed Rogue Officers: A 2014 Tribune investigation “found that an armed unit of rogue officers had allegedly violated probationers’ civil rights. Evans hired a law firm to investigate the Tribune’s findings, but he has refused to release the firm’s report or even to say if he had disciplined any employees or referred any wrongdoing to authorities.”
  • Systemic Bond Court Issues Exposed by IL Supreme Court: Also in 2014, the Illinois Supreme Court released a report into how the court system detains and releases people accused of crimes, outlining a lack of leadership and basic understanding of certain court services that led to people unnecessarily awaiting trial behind bars.
  • Favoritism and Retaliation: Internally, fellow judges have criticized the management style and leadership of Evans, complaining that he often plays favorites in promotions and courtroom assignments. Fellow judges have made allegedly unheeded suggestions for improvement such as an increase in democratic input from judges, a professional administrator to provide expertise on hiring and budget management, and the public posting of job openings in the Office of the Chief Judge. Namely, Judge Patrick Murphy disclosed the following in a mass email: “I submit that our present system quells creativity, quashes dissent and quiets alternative approaches. … Individual judges are frequently afraid to speak out about issues.”

Election flashpoints

  • Clerk Impersonating a Judge: A scandal at the Markham Courthouse uncovered in the weeks leading up to the election earned the Chief Judge’s race even more scrutiny. Although still unresolved and now in the hands of the Illinois Supreme Court after a request from the state commission that oversees lawyers, the Tribune described the incident as “a major embarrassment for the Cook County Circuit Court, one of the nation’s largest court systems, [which] helped spur an unsuccessful revolt against Chief Judge Evans.” In August, Rhonda Crawford, a law clerk and staff attorney for Chief Judge Evans, allegedly put on a judge’s robe and heard at least three traffic cases in the Markham courtroom of Judge Valarie Turner. The cases were since reheard in early September, but Crawford—who is running for Judge in the 1st Judicial Subcircuit—is still on the ballot. Evans’s office moved swiftly: Judge Valarie Turner was reassigned to administrative duties that do not include hearing cases and Rhonda Crawford was fired. Ms. Crawford has refused to remove herself from the November 8th ballot, however, and now faces a write-in candidate (though the pending suspension of her law license would make her ineligible to be a judge). This incident received front page attention in the October 15th print version of the Tribune.
  • Organizing from African-American Clergy: As election day neared, the battle became more heated and more public. Judges complained about threats from African-American ministers to target them at the voting booth in the November general election if Evans was defeated, and public statements even outlined this plan. The day before the election, a group of African-American ministers and other clergy members threatened to retaliate against judges who did not vote for Evans, although it is unknown how the group intended to identify voters from the secret ballots. One pastor warned: “If we lose Judge Evans, our next move is to request of all African-Americans to not vote to retain judges in the November election. … If they turn their back on Judge Evans, we will turn our backs on them.” A local Bishop’s spokesperson declared, “To work against Tim Evans is a slap in the face of the African-American community”

What’s next?

When a hard-fought and close election ends in the maintenance of the status quo, there may be a sense of discouragement and fatalism among those that advocated for change; however, being forced to campaign can move elected officials to do more and push a threatened administration toward reform. There remain real limitations to the reforms that can be raised by judges: as Dick Simpson noted in the aforementioned Tribune article, “[i]t’s a pretty closed world […] A lot of it is whether the judges are satisfied with their own little world, and Tim Evans at the top. They’re not looking at the overall question of whether there will be change to the system.” Systemic changes require the sustained attention of the public and the media on the following three key areas.

1. Priorities

In a time of incredibly tight budgets, the press must examine which projects are prioritized within the Office of the Chief Judge. Chief Judge Evans has touted his support for diversion programs and problem-solving courts when asked how he is improving the criminal courts. Will these and other alternative programs receive financial support and other investments from his office? Will judicial training in relevant areas be developed and implemented?

This past summer, Judge Evans appeared in the press again and again supporting the creation of a restorative justice community court in North Lawndale. Will this nascent project—currently in its planning phase—still be supported now that the election is over?

2. Assignment of Judges

One of the recurring charges against Judge Evans’s administration is that judicial assignments are doled out not of the basis of merit but based on clout or (for unwanted assignments) for the purposes of political retaliation. It is the role of the press and the public to scrutinize whether judges placed in powerful assignments are fit for those roles. Do problem-solving court judges have both the sensitivity and training to deal with the complex and nuanced needs of the people before them such as mental health issues, trauma, drug dependence, and homelessness? Are domestic relations, law division, and felony trial judges familiar with their respective subject matter? The public must also be able to examine whether the associate judge appointment process is truly putting in place talented and forward-thinking jurists.

3. Increased Accountability

Finally, the Office of the Chief Judge should be rendered more accountable to the broader public as opposed to just the judiciary. The current electoral structure and historical lack of public consciousness about the courts makes this difficult; however, the media has shown it can play a critical role in shining light into the court’s operations. The Office of the Chief Judge has a profound effect on the quality of justice in Cook County: It sets a standard for the hundreds of judges hearing all matter of cases, and its massive budget carries enormous secondary effects on the connected budgets of the health and hospitals system, the Cook County Department of Corrections, and many more. At a minimum, the Office of the Chief Judge should be expected to report publicly on the performance of the judiciary.

As election season comes to a close, we must keep demanding that the Office of the Chief Judge provide the budget priorities, judicial appointments, and public accountability that the Cook County justice system and all those impacted by it so desperately need.

 

 

Accelerated Release Isn’t Good Enough for People Who Should Never Have Been in Jail At All

In August 2015, the Accelerated Resolution Court Act created a pilot program in Cook County called the “Rocket Docket.” Developed and pushed by Sheriff Tom Dart, the law promised to release certain highly sympathetic prisoners from the Cook County Jail (“CCJ”) earlier than they would otherwise be released by capping their jail stays at 30 days. As originally designed, the Sheriff’s Office was to refer defendants charged with misdemeanor retail theft or criminal trespass to a special court if they remained in the jail longer than 3 days after their monetary bond had been set. (This was meant to ensure anyone with the means to bond out did so on their own.) The pilot program then required the special Rocket Docket court to resolve these low-level, nonviolent cases within 30 days or to release the defendants on their own recognizance or on electronic monitoring (“EM”). Ultimately, no separate court was established and eligible cases currently continue to make their way through the usual misdemeanor courtrooms. Sheriff Dart’s office simply alerts the State’s Attorney’s office, the defendant’s counsel of record, and the Presiding Judge of the Criminal Division (presently Judge Leroy Martin) after determining that a defendant may qualify for the Rocket Docket’s resolve or release requirements.

Sheriff Dart has been outspoken on the need to reduce CCJ’s population and stop jailing people who pose no threat to public safety. The Rocket Docket idea, however, only impacts a very small percentage of CCJ’s population. Dart’s own estimates predicted about 150-200 of the more than 8,000 people incarcerated in CCJ at any given time would be eligible for the program. With more than 70,000 annual admissions to CCJ, 200 impacted people amounts to less than a quarter of one percent of the admitted individuals. Eligibility is further reduced by the requirement that defendants not have certain prior convictions. Cara Smith, Dart’s Chief of Policy, reported in April of this year that only 13% of eligible prisoners were referred for the Rocket Docket pilot program, and fewer than that were actually released. That means as few as 26 people could have been referred through the pilot program for release, and fewer than that released.

Now, Sheriff Dart is trying to expand the Accelerated Resolution Court Act through HB 6190. The new bill expands the pool of eligible defendants to include those charged with certain traffic violations and class 4 felony violations of the Illinois Controlled Substances Act. The bill has already passed both houses of the legislature and is awaiting Governor Rauner’s signature.

The problems with the “Rocket Docket” as a solution for unnecessary pretrial detention, however, are not simply the miniscule number of eligible defendants or abysmally low referral rate. As a result, the pilot’s real limitations cannot be addressed simply by statutorily expanding the pool of eligible defendants. First and most importantly, 30 days is a horrifically long time to hold anyone in jail who is deemed appropriate for release. As a standard, it avoids none of the well-documented harms caused by even a few days in detention [PDF] such as increased recidivism, loss of jobs and housing, higher rates of conviction, and longer sentences. The easier and much simpler, evidence-based solution [PDF] would be to release such low-level offenders on personal recognizance bonds immediately instead of allowing judges to continue to set monetary bonds that will be overridden only after a defendant has spent 30 destructive and expensive days in detention.

CCJ beds.jpg
Hundreds of inmates sleep together on bunks in a large room of the Cook County Jail, Thursday, Sep. 5, 2013, in Chicago. (Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune)

 

Secondly, the vast majority of misdemeanor retail theft and criminal trespass cases are already resolved in under 30 days, most often through dismissals or plea agreements. Rather than shortening the length of stay in Cook County Jail, establishing 30 days as a cut-off period for such low-level cases has in some instances worked to lengthen the defendant’s incarceration, the opposite of its design. When public defenders raise the issue of bond for eligible defendants and request release on a personal recognizance bond or EM, the assistant state’s attorneys in some courtrooms have been observed to cite the 30 day cut-off as still weeks out and reason to put off re-evaluating the money bond currently keeping the defendant incarcerated. Rather than create a norm of not incarcerating people charged with misdemeanors, the Accelerated Resolution Court Act has in part worked to normalize up to 30 days of incarceration for defendants charged with even these most harmless of offenses.

If the goal is to release these defendants who cannot pay their bonds, then there are also numerous court dates that occur earlier than 30 days in and that would provide much more natural points of re-evaluation for bond decisions, such as arraignment or preliminary hearings. In addition, the Rocket Docket’s narrow eligibility requirements further reinforce the idea that defendants who are not eligible should remain detained longer than 30 days–reinforcing a false division of “worthy” and “unworthy” defendants based simply on a short lists of current charges cross-referenced with past convictions. Such an oversimplified and thus politically appealing determination of who may be detained pre-trial for more than 30 days is not research-based. In fact, it flies in the face of studies that link unnecessary pretrial detention with increased recidivism and support the use of only interventions that match properly assessed risks and needs. These costs to the larger conversation about necessary criminal justice reform are quite simply not worth the benefit of releasing at most 26 people per year sooner than they might otherwise be released.Cook County Jail

Sheriff Dart, meanwhile, has been reaping the publicity benefits of the Rocket Docket and its proposed expansion. As a statutory intervention into jail populations, it is not designed to address the issues of mass incarceration, something Sheriff Dart has implied. Overall, the Rocket Docket legislation is poorly designed policy carrying the potential to serve far too few people to be worthwhile. While heartbreaking, the stories Dart shares with press–such as that of “D.E.” who spent 86 days in Cook County Jail for trespass–are outliers. These extreme cases should be addressed alongside the unnecessary and unjustifiable four day or two week jail stays requiring that all defendants with nonviolent charges be given personal recognizance bonds or some similarly broad standard. The public should demand good policy that pushes judges to rely increasingly on personal recognizance bonds instead of maintaining a system that allows money to determine pretrial incarceration. Additional policy changes occurring earlier on in a potential defendant’s contact with the criminal legal system such as alternatives to arrest and pre-prosecution diversion must also be explored if we are to truly decrease the strain on criminal courts and lessen case processing time.

Although the Rocket Docket makes a great soundbite for an ambitious politician, it is poor public policy. We can and must do much better if we are truly serious about reducing unnecessary pretrial detention.

Visitation at Cook County Jail – Part 3

Cook County Jail is one of the largest single-site jails in the nation, occupying 96 acres on the city’s West Side. Most inmates are housed at the jail for only a short period of time before receiving a trial or being bailed out. It is common, however, for some inmates to spend months and in some cases even years in the jail before they are released or sent to prison. Receiving visits during incarceration can be incredibly beneficial for the morale of an inmate and their loved ones. Unfortunately, the process is often complicated, inconvenient and exhausting.

To find out more about  visiting an inmate at Cook County Jail, Cook County Justice Watch spoke to Patty Cloud, a member of Progressive Community Church. Patty has been visiting incarcerated members of the church’s congregation since 2011, and is involved in religious volunteer work in the Cook County DOC. In the first segment of this series,  Patty talked about the process of being cleared for visitation, which involves locating the inmate and being placed on their visitor list, submitting a visitor application and clearing a background check. In the second segment, she talked about visiting day and the process of conducting a conversation with an inmate through a metal grate that prohibits eye contact while speaking.

In the third and final segment of this series, Patti talks about just a few of the many obstacles she encountered while visiting or attempting to visit inmates and some improvements she feels could make visitation easier.

 

In this interview, she talks about the difficulty that older visitors may have navigating lengthy walks from check-in kiosks to their division. She also suggests that there must be somewhere inside the massive jail where visitors could sit while waiting to visit, sheltered from the elements, rather than standing outside for hours. Alerting families when a division or tier goes on lockdown  would help families to determine if a visit is even possible on a specific day, she says.

cook-county-jail-facilities
The Cook County Jail complex at 2700 S. California Ave. has 10 divisions.

Have you ever been held at Cook County Jail, or visited an inmate there? Please share your experience below. Cook County Justice Watch would like to know how you think the process of visitation could be improved.

Interview footage shot and produced by Rachel Hoffman. rachelehoffman.com/video/

Interview conducted by Ruby Pinto. 

Cook County Justice Watch Speaks with Floyd Stafford

Recently, Cook County Justice Watch had the chance to speak with Floyd Stafford, future Legislative Coordinator for the Cook County Justice Advisory Council. Floyd is a co-founder of the Alumni Association and a criminal justice advocate. He spent several months in the Cook County Jail’s Pre-Release program, and brings a rare and much-needed perspective to this work. We spoke to Floyd about growing up on Chicago’s West Side, his experience in Cook County Jail and the work he hopes to do in his upcoming position. Floyd also provides insight on the challenges that formerly incarcerated people face upon release, and the work he has done and and continues to do challenging these barriers.

Changes Coming to CPD Stop and Frisk Policy

The standard Chicago Police Department process of data collection during civilian stops and frisks will change to comply with a new state law, SB 1304, signed into law on August 12, 2015 and taking effect by January 2016.

Updates to policy in accordance with the SB 1304 include:

  • Officers must document whether a stop resulted in a frisk and/or search and whether any contraband was found;
  • Officers must issue receipts containing their name and badge number to anyone detained and either frisked and/or searched; and
  • Stops resulting in tickets, summons, or arrests will be documented in the same centralized database as all other stops, finally making comparison and evaluation of efficacy possible.

In addition to the above changes that will impact all law enforcement agencies in the state, a new settlement between the ACLU of Illinois and the Chicago Police Department requires that stop and frisk data and training policies be submitted to the ACLU and a special monitor for review. The monitor, retired federal Magistrate judge Arlander Keys, will issue twice annual reports on CPD’s progress reducing the number of unconstitutional stops, frisks, and searches conducted by its officers.

Download and view the CPD’s current directive regarding contact cards here:  Chicago Police Contact Information System.

Below is an example of contact cards currently used by officers when a stop occurs.

contactcardsfront

contactcardsback

Cook County Justice Watch has also obtained a training document on vehicle stops and warrantless searches that was recently distributed to CPD officers. Download and view the document here: Vehicle Stops and Warrantless Searches

Below is a conclusion of what officers can and cannot do during lawful vehicle stops.

stopsconclusion

The issue of police conduct during stops and searches has been the focus of community organizing in Chicago for quite some time, as detailed in a previous post by Cook County Justice Watch, Organizing in Chicago for Stop and Frisk Transparency. Below is a chart composed by We Charge Genocide which details the similarities and differences in the proposed STOP ACT, the ACLU agreement and SB 1304.

chistopscart

 

Organizing in Chicago for Stop and Frisk Transparency

Organizing in Chicago for Stop and Frisk Transparency

July 30, 2015
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Caption: Photo of #ChiStops Intern Gillian Giles by Debbie Southorn, via twitter (@madlittledebbie)

Yesterday morning in Chicago City Hall, We Charge Genocide and Chicago Votes held a press conference introducing a new effort to record and disseminate information about Stop and Frisk in Chicago: The Stops, Transparency, Oversight, and Protection (STOP) Act. The ordinance is being sponsored by Aldermen Roderick T. Sawyer (6th Ward), Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st Ward), and Roberto Maldonado (26th Ward). We Charge Genocide (WCG) argues that public access to data is needed to evaluate whether stop and frisk is being used fairly and effectively in Chicago and to prevent racial profiling of youth of color, and particularly Black youth.

In March of this year, a report by the ACLU of Illinois found that Chicagoans were stopped at four times the rate of New Yorkers during the height of stops and frisks by NYPD. In the summer of 2014, CPD conducted more than 250,000 stops that did not result in arrests. Significantly, 72% of the stops were of Black residents, though Chicago is only 32% Black. Furthermore, the ACLU’s review of a random sample of CPD contact cards found that officers’ justifications for the stops did not meet legal standards of reasonable suspicion fully half of the time, raising concerns about rampant Fourth Amendment violations similar to those found in NYPD’s stop and frisk practices.  We Charge Genocide and Chicago Votes are emphasizing the collective experience of intimidation, harassment, and fear that comes from unjustified street stops and how these practices erode trust between police and community members.

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Caption: Caleb Porter, Chicago Votes member, says that he was first stopped and handcuffed by police at age 13, an experience he calls “terrifying”. Photo by The Chicago Reporter, via twitter (@ChicagoReporter, link)

The STOP Act would require documentation of all stops, frisks, and other searches conducted by CPD. Data collected would include the person’s perceived race, age, gender, and the location of and reason for the stop. In addition to demographic information about the individual persons stopped, CPD officers would be required to record whether any frisk or more extensive search took place, and if so, the specific legal justification for the frisk and/or search. Records would also include whether any force was used in the stop, and any outcome of the stop such as whether contraband was found and/or whether a warning, ticket, or arrest took place. The STOP Act would further require CPD to release all this information publicly in quarterly reports.

People stopped by CPD would receive a receipt with the name and badge number of any officers involved. In addition, when a CPD officer claims that a search was conducted pursuant to consent of the person stopped, the STOP Act requires written documentation of that consent. These recommendations, like the public disclosure of demographic data, comes straight out of the Final Report of The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing released this past May.

A pending state bill, SB1304, would require police departments across the state to document investigatory stops that led to frisks, searches, tickets, or arrests, but not mere stops. The state law would also require police departments to submit their stop and frisk data to the Illinois Department of Transportation, which would release reports annually to the Governor, the General Assembly, the Profiling Prevention and Data Oversight Board, and law enforcement agencies once annually. SB1304 was passed by both houses in May 2015 and sent to Governor Rauner on June 26th, but has not yet been signed into law.

We Charge Genocide members and leaders of the #ChiStops campaign, Page May and Malcolm London, have been conducting teach-ins with young people throughout the summer. Reaching mostly high school students, their goal is to foster a youth-led effort to end Stop and Frisk in Chicago. On August 9th, #ChiStops will host a Speak-Out Against Stop & Frisk and Police Violence. Chicago Votes youth members have been canvassing community events to talk to people about Stop & Frisk and have collected more than 2,000 comment cards in favor of the STOP Act. They are hosting a Forum on Police Accountability today, Thursday, July 30th in Back of the Yards.

As of today, 35 community organizations have signed on to support the ordinance, including Black Lives Matter – Chicago, BYP 100, First Defense Legal Aid, and the National Lawyers Guild of Chicago.

The full text of the proposed ordinance can be found here. WCG’s fact sheet is also available on their website.

Racial Disparity Concerns for State’s Attorney Alvarez’ New Policy and Other Avenues of Reform

On Monday, April 20, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced three changes in the way her office responds to drug crime. These changes, though neutral on their face, pose a great risk of increasing racial disparity in an already deeply unfair system. Below, we outline her new policy, our questions and concerns, and current pushes for decriminalization happening at the state level in Illinois.

State Attorney Alvarez’ new policy on drug crime:

  • Her office will no longer prosecute misdemeanor possession of marijuana under 30 grams for those who have had 2 or fewer citations or arrests on the matter beforehand;
  • All offenders charged with Class 4 felony possession of a controlled substance or possession of cannabis, except for those with significant violence in their criminal backgrounds, will be routed to an alternative prosecution program including the newly created Drug Deferred Prosecution Program (DDPP). These would include individuals possessing substances other than cannabis, such as heroin, cocaine, etc.
  • And the State’s Attorney’s Office will formalize an ongoing policy of not proceeding with charges against juvenile offenders for the possession of under 30 grams of cannabis and those who have fewer than three arrests or police contacts for similar charges. Instead, the State’s Attorney’s Office promises to work with the Chicago Police Department and community-based organizations to create and implement a juvenile-specific version of Seattle’s successful Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, program.

These new policies come at a time of growing national awareness that responding to drug possession as a criminal rather than a public health problem is failed policy. Current practices have led to overcrowded prisons and jails, wasted resources that should be used toward higher enforcement priorities, lives impaired by a criminal record, and deepened racial divisions.

However, up until now, attempts at correcting this failed policy have only worsened racial disparities. . In 2012, the Chicago City Council decriminalized low levels of marijuana possession by issuing fines rather than criminal penalties.   But under existing state law, police can still issue arrests rather than tickets for such offenses, and, as noted in a report of Roosevelt University’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, do so in the vast majority of cases. Furthermore, when the decision is made to arrest or issue a fine, it is made predominantly along racial lines. In short, Black Chicagoans have not seen the reduction in arrests that White Chicagoans have.

Concerns About Racial Disparity Under Alvarez’s New Policy

In Chicago, blacks make up only 33% of the population, and yet, 73 % of all arrests are of black people. More arrests lead to more prosecutions despite the fact that blacks and whites use illegal drugs at the same rate. Disproportionate contact with police and prosecutors based on race presents such a stark contrast, that you would think anyone suggesting policy changes would proceed with caution. (Tables on Arrests and Population by Race are included at the bottom of this post, with sources).

Now, the Cook County States’ Attorney has actually suggested decreasing certain penalties for the possession of marijuana in a manner that may further increase disproportionality. She says that when we look for people whose cases should be dismissed or ought to be offered treatment (the new marijuana and juvenile program proposals, respectively), we should look at how often they have been arrested. Thus automatically treatment and dismissal will be offered less often to Blacks and Latinos who on the whole get arrested more often despite similar rates of drug use. Though the number of arrests of Blacks and Latinos will go down the racial disparity between people of color and whites stands to widen. As whites are disproportionately offered treatment and dismissal, the prosecution of Blacks disproportionately increases. Thus a set of terrible outcomes stands to get worse.

We would ask the State’s Attorneys what the expected populations, by race, are expected to be affected by these new policies? And what systems are being put into place to ensure individuals being offered treatment are actually being clinically assessed for their need and being offered the right level of services?

State Level Decriminalization Is Moving Forward

State law may soon change. House Bill 218, introduced by State Representative Cassidy, (D- Chicago) has just passed the Illinois House and has passed the Criminal Law Committee of the Senate. It calls for replacing criminal penalties with civil fines for low level marijuana possession. The proposed legislation has a broad base of support, including the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, and the Office of Cook County State Sheriff Tom Dart.

Change begets tough questions and challenges. How will the Chicago Police Department respond to state, not just city, decriminalization of marijuana? Treatment and education services are already in short supply. Where will funding for the services to support alternatives to incarceration come from?  Can ways be found for units of government to collaborate in identifying and allocating the services that do exist? How will they insure that treatment goes to those who need it most?

It is promising that the Cook County State’s Attorney is citing the LEAD models of Seattle and Santa Fe. The first full-scale evaluation of LEAD, released last week by the University of Washington, found that that services rather than prison have helped to break the cycle of addiction, joblessness, and homelessness for program participants and reduced recidivism by nearly 60%. LEAD has established a national model for collaboration among law enforcement, human service agencies, and community organizations. The task now is effective implementation of such policies here.

Tables on Disproportionate Impact

2013 Census Bureau Population Estimate – City of Chicago

Total          2,719,000
Black              894,000 33%
Non-Black          1,824,000 67%

Source: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/17/1714000.html

Street Stops by Race – City of Chicago (four month sample)

Stops % Stops Per 1000
Total 251,000   94
Black 181,000 72% 205
Non-Black 70,000 28% 39

Analysis of four month period May through August 2014

Source: ACLU-IL http://www.aclu-il.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/ACLU_StopandFrisk_6.pdf

2014 Arrests by Race – Chicago Police Department

  Arrests % Arrests per 1000
Total          129,000 48
Black            94,000 73% 106
Non-Black            35,000 27% 19

Source: Chicago Police Department

For comparison, the estimated arrest rate for the United States in 2012 was 39 arrests per 1,000 residents.

Source: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2012/crime-in-the-u.s.-2012/persons-arrested/persons-arrested

2014 Cook County Jail Population

  Admissions % Admissions per 1000
Total 65,129 12
Black            43,000 65% 33
Non-Black           23,000 35% 6

Source: Cook County Sheriff

African Americans make up 25% of Cook County’s 5.2 million residents

Individuals from the City of Chicago comprised 63% of jail admissions