Our Purpose: To Serve as a Digital Resource Center

The United States has far more people in prison and in jail than public safety requires. This damages the lives of those who are incarcerated, their families, and their communities. It also contributes to a cycle of crime and punishment and diverts resources from more constructive uses. We have much work to do to achieve a fair and effective criminal justice system.

The resource materials located on the various menu pages above include materials from the resource binder distributed at programs on Confronting the Moral Crisis of Mass Incarceration that St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church in Chicago hosted in the Winter of 2018 in order to promote greater understanding of the criminal justice system and to begin to provide tools for individuals and organizations to get involved in promoting radical change. Leading experts spoke to the full range of complex issues that we need to address in order to rethink and change the laws and practices that have resulted in too many men and women—most of them people of color—being imprisoned or jailed.

Videos of each of those two-hour programs are available on this homepage.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the CDLU. 

Fall Update on Criminal Justice Reform

From the Desk of John McLees

Upcoming Events and Legislative Update:

As we go into the fall, here is information on some upcoming events in Illinois, along with a legislative update for Illinois and some useful reports from Brennan Center for Justice on the impact of criminal justice reform legislation over the past decade and on model criminal justice legislation, including the text of laws that have passed in some states and model legislation drafted by the Brennan Center.

 Upcoming Events in Illinois:

  • Thursday October 3 through Thursday October 12 –  (In)Justice For All Film Festival, featuring more than 30 films, shown free of charge at locations around Chicago, including the screening  with panel discussion at 7:00 p.m. on Monday October 7 at Fourth Presbyterian Church on North Michigan Avenue, of Stateville Calling, a documentary film that explores the challenges facing an aging prison population – Go to https://www.injusticeforallff.com for                 descriptions, dates, times and screening locations of all of the films in the Festival.
  • Friday, October 4, Restorative Justice citywide meeting, at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Facility auditorium, 1100 South Hamilton – following up on the 2018 Restorative Justice Summit – for more information, please send a note to rjsummitevent@gmail.com.
  • Friday, October 4, Shriver Center on Poverty Law Annual Gala, 5:00 – 9:30 pm, at the Palmer House  Hotel, 17 East Monroe, featuring a conversation with Trevor Noah – Learn more and purchase tickets at povertylaw.org/gala.
  • Now through October 12 , Envisioning Justice Exhibition, Tuesday through Saturday 11am to 6pm, at SAIC’s Sullivan Galleries, 33 S. State Street., 7th floor –  Visit the Illinois Humanities website for more information.
  • Tuesday, October 1518th Annual Safer Foundation CARRE Policy Conference on the subject: It’s All Connected: Developing a Holistic Approach to Reentry, 9:00 to 4:00 at UIC at 750 South Halsted, #520 Click here for more information and to register for the conference, which is       free of charge.
  • Friday, November 1, WBEZ’s Podcast Passport presents a live discussion: Inside Ear Hustle, 7:30 to  9:00 at the Studebaker Theater at 410 South Michigan – about the origin and evolution of the Ear Hustle podcast, which offers insight into daily life inside and after prison, shared by those living it – Learn more and purchase tickets at https://www.wbez.org/events/wbezs-podcast-passport-presents-inside-ear-hustle/6066


Legislative Update: Illinois Legislative Efforts


  • The ACLU’s 2019 Illinois Legislative Wrap Uphttps://www.aclu-il.org/en/news/2019-aclu-illinois-legislative-wrap includes suggested Action Items for supporting enactment in Illinois of the proposed License to Work Act, of legislation to Ban the Box in Higher Education, and of legislation for Defelonization of Drug Possession and for Increasing the Felony Thresholds for Property Crimes.
  • Brennan Center for Justice Reports on Model State Legislation and on the States’ Progress in Reducing the Rate of Incarceration Here are links to report of The Brennan Center on the simultaneous reductions in the rate of incarceration and the amount of crime over the past decade, showing how Illinois lags behind 24 other states in reducing its prison population during that period: https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/between-2007-and-2017-34-states-reduced-crime-and-incarceration-tandem
  • And to its December 2018 report: Criminal Justice Solutions: Model State Legislation¸ which contains text of model legislation to address a wide range of criminal justice issues, including eliminating incarceration for lower level crimes, making sentences proportional to crimes, abolishing cash bail, reforming prosecutorial incentives, reforming marijuana laws, calibrating fines to defendants’ ability, eliminating fees, reducing opioid deaths, and curbing the number of women entering state prisons:  https://www.brennancenter.org/publication/criminal-justice-solutions-model-state-legislation


Justice Summer Update: Issues That Deserve Our Attention

From the Desk of John McLees:

As we have been enjoying the summer, issues pertaining to the operation of the criminal justice system have continued to develop in ways that deserve our attention:

  • Kim Foxx Two recent reports highlight her accomplishments as Cook County State’s Attorney:


  • Pretrial Detention
    • Cash Bail – Efforts are ramping up across the state to support legislation outlawing or limiting the use of cash bail (see https://endmoneybond.org/illinois-network-for-pretrial-justice/)
    • Pretrial release of those accused of unlawful possession of a firearm – Meanwhile controversy has erupted over the methods used by the Cook County courts to decide whether to grant or deny release pending trial for someone who is accused of unlawful possession of a firearm but who has not been convicted and is not accused of violent use of a firearm:
      • Mayor Lightfoot rejected the argument voiced by Cook County Board President Preckwinkle, in a letter to the Mayor, that Police Chief Johnson is promoting a dangerous false narrative in arguing that release pending trial of individuals who are accused of unlawful possession of a firearm, but who are not accused of violent use of a firearm, contributes significantly to gun violence in the city.
      • A report issued by Chief Judge Evans in May concluded that far less than one percent of those accused of a felony in Cook County and released pending the trial have then been charged with a new violent offense.
    • How pretrial detention works.


  • Where to Put Our Resources – There is broad agreement among City, County and State officials and others that it is necessary to shift scarce resources toward investment in affected communities and toward alternatives to incarceration in order to make significant progress in reducing violent crime and to deal with offenders in ways that do not lead them to commit more crimes and create more victims.


  • Re-Entry Housing – One area where more resources are sorely needed is in the creation of housing opportunities for those released from prison. An important recent report by the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Illinois Justice Project (https://www.metroplanning.org/work/project/38) highlights:
    • the critical lack of reentry housing for the 26,000 individuals released from prison in Illinois each year,
    • how that contributes to the inability of these individuals to reestablish productive lives and to the high rate of recidivism and reincarceration in Illinois, and
    • what can be done to increase the availability of reentry housing.

Watch for actions in response to this report that you can support in the coming year.


  • Summer Reading and Regular Updates – Meanwhile:


Justice Summer – Digging Deeper and Pressing On

From the Desk of John McLees:

The updated section on Getting Involved in Criminal Justice Reform highlights:

  • sources of learning available to all of us on criminal justice issues,
  • opportunities to get a young person’s perspective on life in the North Lawndale neighborhood, and
  • efforts underway in Illinois and elsewhere to reimagine our justice system, especially to reimagine how our justice system deals with young adult offenders.

It also continues to feature numerous volunteer opportunities.

You can learn more about the work of the Reimagine Justice Policy Academy, launched earlier this year in Illinois, by participating in a conference with international speakers being held from 10:00 to 4:00 next Wednesday, June 5, at the Lawndale Christian Conference Center, or from the report of the Columbia University Justice Lab: Emerging Adult Justice in Illinois: Towards an Age-Appropriate Approach, available at a link in the attachment.

Earlier messages have focused on efforts to make incremental improvements in our criminal justice system in the current session of the Illinois General Assembly. While a full assessment of those efforts is not yet possible, it is clear that the legislature’s focus on other big ticket items has crowded out consideration of many of those legislative proposals. Similarly, efforts will need to continue in the months ahead in defending the improvements being made in the prosecutorial function by Kim Foxx as Cook County State’s Attorney, against attacks by the Federation of Police and others.

On a positive note, the Cook County Board of Commissioners has responded to the Fair Housing Initiative of a broad coalition of Chicago organizations by amending the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance to limit the ability of landlords to take past criminal records into account in making rental decisions.

Please make yours a justice summer.

Ramping Up Support for Reform

From  the Desk of John McLees:

The attached revised summary contains information about:

  • Several events in May to support organizations devoted to criminal justice reform in Illinois,
  • important new reports and books on incarceration and its impact and on reforming the prosecutorial function, and
  • Progress toward re-imagining young adult justice in in Illinois, toward enacting a just housing ordinance in Cook County, and toward statewide consideration of reforms in pretrial procedures, including reforms in the use of money bail.

There are also important opportunities for advocacy:

  • to contact your representatives in the Illinois House and Senate now to ask for their votes to enact justice reforms that have been approved by the other chamber of the legislature, and
  • to ramp up our support of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her reform agenda.

Please pay particular attention to the information at https://www.cookcountystatesattorney.org/data about the pioneering data driven approach that State’s Attorney Foxx has implemented to achieve just outcomes and to inform the public.

Unfortunately, we face a situation in which the leadership of the Federation of Police has tried to subvert her efforts to bring justice and transparency to the operation of the prosecutor’s office in Cook County ever since she was elected in 2016.

Now the FOP has escalated these efforts into an all-out attack, using the Jesse Smollett matter and whatever else to smear State’s Attorney Foxx in order to achieve its real objectives of rolling back her efforts to hold police accountable for how they interact with the public, to level the playing field for everyone who goes through the court system, to challenge wrongful convictions, and to eliminate excessive incarceration.

See a Sun-Times assessment of the situation at https://chicago.suntimes.com/politics/venom-directed-at-kim-foxx-is-about-taking-down-an-african-american-reformer/.

Please make use of the opportunities that we have now and that we will have in coming months to support her work.  These include:

  • Writing to Mayor-elect Lightfoot at the “Share Your Ideas” portal she has provided at https://bettertogetherchicago.com/ to ask her to support State’s Attorney Foxx and her reform agenda and to defend her against the attacks by the Federation of Police, and
  • Joining the demonstration supporting Kim Foxx and her reform agenda and opposing the racist agenda of the Federation of Police, organized by The People’s Lobby and SOUL:

 4:00 to 6:00 on Monday May 6 at the headquarters of the Chicago Federation of Police, 1416 West Washington St.

     For more information go here.

Every citizen of Cook County, including every good police officer working to keep us safe, has a stake in making sure that Kim Foxx succeeds in her efforts and that the Chicago Federation of Police fails in its campaign to discredit her and to destroy her reform agenda.

It is time for citizens to resist the FOP by all means possible and to demand that all public officials reject and condemn its racist campaign.

Thank you as always for your interest and for all of your efforts to improve our system of justice and to let others know of the resources available for learning and for getting involved, including those mentioned in the attachment.

Spring Update: More Proposals, More Opportunities

From the Desk of John McLees:

The attached update notes some upcoming events and some excellent additional electronic newsletters that you may want to check out.

It focuses on the growing number of bills, now more than 50, that are being considered by the Illinois Legislature, which would make significant improvements in our criminal justice system. 

Use the links noted in the update –  http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/default.asp and http://myreps.datamade.us/ – to learn more about details and status of the bills and to identify your Representatives and Senators in order to make your input on these important proposals during the current very compact legislative session.

The update also continues to feature volunteer opportunities and a growing library of resources for learning about how change needs to happen and how it is beginning to happen in pretrial procedures, in diversion from prosecution, in the definition of penalties for crimes and administrative infractions, in the use of prison time for rehabilitation instead of crime training, and in supporting those released from prison both to improve lives and to reduce recidivism, with its costs in treasure and in the suffering of additional victims.

Thank you as always for your interest and for all of your efforts to improve our system of justice and to let others know of the resources available to them in learning and in getting involved, including those mentioned in the attachment and at the website https://incarcerationreform.com/.

Improving Lives and Reducing Recidivism

From the Desk of John McLees:

The attached update continues to feature volunteer opportunities and resources for learning about how change needs to happen and how it is beginning to happen in pretrial procedures, in diversion from prosecution, in the definition of penalties for crimes and administrative infractions, in the use of prison time for rehabilitation instead of crime training, and in supporting those released from prison both to improve lives and to reduce recidivism, with its costs in treasure and in the suffering of additional victims.

This time there is information about some important new resources and about bills that have been introduced in the 101st session of the Illinois General Assembly to address some of these issues, which are among the initiatives that will need our attention and support in coming weeks and months.

Thank you as always for your interest and for all of your efforts to improve our system of justice and to let others know of the resources available to them in learning and in getting involved, including those mentioned in the attachment and at the website https://incarcerationreform.com/.

Reforming in 2019

From the Desk of John McLees:

As we proceed into the new year, there are a number of developments, upcoming events, action items and new resources that that deserve our attention and that we have mentioned in our most recent update.  They will be on the website: https://incarcerationreform.com/ in the near future.  Thanks to everyone who continues to alert us to things that deserve attention from this group and others.

Of particular note are :

  • The Reimagining Prison Report of the Vera Institute of Justice and the recent report of the Columbia University Justice Lab on Emerging Adult Justice in Illinois, which together have provided the basis for the launch last week by the Juvenile Justice Initiative of its Reimagine Justice Policy Academy in Illinois, and
  • The report released last week by the Vera Institute of Justice on Investing in Futures – Economic and Fiscal Benefits of Postsecondary Education in Prisons, which promises to provide a sound basis for the legislative effort now underway in Congress, as a part of the re-authorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965, to repeal the 25 year old ban on Second Chance Pell Grants for prisoners, which could result in the reinstatement of hundreds of college level education programs in state and federal prisons.

As we start the new year, here is a link to the recent statement of Michelle Alexander, a great champion of criminal justice reform, in The New York Times, declaring that it is:  Time to Break the Silence on Palestine

This is a message to carry with us as a call to daily action as a priority for 2019.  Organizations like the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights and Jewish Voice for Peace have recognized the connection between campaigning for recognition of Palestinian human rights and working to combat racism and to address the moral crisis of mass incarceration in the United States.  We also need to make that connection and to join with Michelle and others in breaking our silence on Palestine.

Holiday Update for Justice Reform

From the Desk of John McLees:

The  new update contains information on some new volunteer opportunities and an accumulation of reports and articles that have appeared in past couple of months that deserve our attention, including:

  • a National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction and a webinar that you can access on how to use this new resource,
  • an extensive Reimagining Prison Report issued by the Vera Institute for Justice, and
  • a report of the Urban Institute on Father Reentry and Child Outcomes, exploring children’s behavior when a father is incarcerated and when he is released,

Along with recent news on state and Federal legislation and on our incoming governor’s new Committee on Restorative Justice and a reminder to sign up for the regular news reports of The Illinois Justice Project and the Marshall Project.

We have once again highlight the contact information of more than 60 organizations that are working to improve our criminal justice system and that deserve our support in 2018.  You can contribute to them, and learn more about the work that they are doing, online at their websites.  Please do consider picking four or five or more whose work inspires you.

As in the past, feel free to forward these messages to others who may be interested in learning more about how the criminal justice system operates and how we can all contribute to improving it, and let them know about the opportunity to get on the distribution list for these messages and about this website which is updated to contain the same information.

We wish each of you a season of joy and reflection at the holidays and many moments of satisfaction and success in the new year.