Pritzker Admin Aims To Centralize Criminal Justice Reform Efforts
Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton has made criminal justice reform the centerpiece of her work in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration. She recently appointed Quinn Rallins to head an effort dubbed the Justice, Equity and Opportunity Initiative, which aims to centralize criminal justice reform measures. Rallins said the group will unveil their vision for reform sometime later this month.
Rallins is the former program director for the Illinois Justice Project, a nonprofit that advocates for criminal justice reforms. He said a big component of his work with the JEO will be ensuring state agencies collaborate on reform efforts, instead of working in silos. Rallins recently spoke with Illinois Public Media's Lee Gaines about the JEO, and the biggest challenges facing the state's criminal justice system.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
What is the Justice, Equity and Opportunity Initiative and what is it supposed to accomplish?
The Justice, Equity and Opportunity Initiative is really a vision from the Stratton/Priztker campaign. We need to be thinking about the harm caused on communities of color and disenfranchised communities by the justice system, and we need to be thinking in a range of different ways. What are some of the front-end solutions to really divert and deflect individuals from the justice system altogether? What do we do with the institutions in terms of how we reform the core justice systems?
We're going to try to improve the communications across agencies. We want to make sure, for example, the Community College Board is collaborating with the Department of Corrections, making sure that individuals are getting the types of educational services they need. We want to be working collaboratively with the core justice institutions, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services and the Department of Human Services to make sure that people have healthcare access before any justice involvement and also upon any interaction with the justice system. These initiatives require some interagency coordination. I think the more important piece is this broader piece about how do we move policies within an equity framework? How do we make sure that the communities that have been most harmed, the communities that have been left behind are benefiting from the policies and decisions that we make?
What do you think the bigges challenges facing the state's criminal justice system are right now and how is the JEO going to help solve them?
I think we need to be rethinking our footprint around sentencing. We need to be rethinking our drug laws, we need to be rethinking our laws around retail theft, we need to be rethinking the way we deal with community corrections as people come out. But I think, even more importantly, when we talk about reforming the justice system, it means ensuring that people don't enter the justice system in the first place. So what do interactions look like, the initial point of contact with law enforcement? It's very difficult for law enforcement to send people places when there aren't places to send them to. So we need to be thinking about what our social safety net is to make sure that we have alternatives to incarceration.
What are your top priorities as you transition into and occupy this new position?
Some of this is really about connecting groups, organizations, agencies and legislators that may have not been in the greatest dialogue before, and that we know they need to be in communication if we're going to get some things done. So, for example, what does it mean to make sure that youth from the Department of Juvenile Justice or individuals from the Department of Corrections don't remain incarcerated just because they don't have a proper place to stay? So that requires a conversation with the Illinois Housing Development Authority. Really, we believe that if we continue to do policy and implementation in silos, it continues to exacerbate the challenges with the justice system. Some of this is about getting the players in a room together and sitting down to work out some of the kinks.
That seems like a significant challenge. Are you confident that the folks in positions of power in those agencies are interested in collaborating on this effort?
This administration is intent on making sure everyone's collaborating together. So the JEO initiative, we have convening authority of all agencies. Some of the agencies are directly under the purview of the lieutenant governor for the first time. So, for example, the Department of Juvenile Justice is under our purview. The Prisoner Review Board is under our purview. The Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board is under our purview. The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority is under our purview. But also I believe that action outside of a relationship can be a nuisance. So what does that mean? It means I come from a background in community organizing where you don't want to do things outside of relationships. So we've been having those initial rounds of listening sessions, if you will, because we want to make sure we're not only getting people's ideas, that we're building relationships on the front end because we know we're all in the foxhole together.
Follow Lee Gaines on Twitter: @LeeVGaines