“Our criminal justice system is not working.” These were the comments of Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton as she was speaking at a joint House and Senate committee meeting in Chicago Thursday on cash bail and mandatory sentencing. Stratton spoke at a subject-matter hearing at the Bilandic Building held jointly by the state Senate Criminal Law Committee and the Special Committee on Public Safety, along with the House Judiciary-Criminal Committee.
Stratton and her superior Gov. Pritzker are vocal of the criminal justice reform. She said that the Illinois prison population had risen 30,000 in recent decades to almost 40,000 and was costing the state $1.4 billion a year. “Our criminal justice system is not working,” she said to open the hearing, adding that it is “not effective at reducing crime nor in repairing harm done to communities.”
She also questioned, “Does the cash-bail system protect public safety or does it protect wealth?” Chief of staff at the Illinois Department of Corrections, Camile Lindsay testified that the state has 38,000 prisoners in custody. 54.5 percent of them are African Americans while 12.7 percent are Hispanics. She also gave a surprising stat that 19 percent are 50 or older and many others are mentally ill or physically ailing.
Sharone Mitchell, deputy director of the Illinois Justice Project, said that the main problem is not a racial one instead of it an economic one. Mitchell said that you are looking at poor people when examining the state prison population. He charged that the current bail system was responsible for “a massive transfer of money from communities that can barely sustain these hits.”
Brittany Mitchell of Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood testified that her family was thrown into turmoil when her husband’s bail was held on a $100,000 bond. “I knew I couldn’t pay it,” she said, “and he was our livelihood.” She argued that the cash-bail process is burdening the people.