Justice Reform in 2021: Successes, Time-Sensitive Advocacy, and New Resources

From the Desk of John McLees…

We are celebrating the Illinois General Assembly’s passage in January 2021 of a momentous omnibus criminal justice reform act, and the long awaited repeal in December of the Federal ban on the use of Pell grants to finance programs of college instruction in state and Federal prisons.

But the need for action doesn’t end.  We need to act now to counter the wave of attacks based on false information and fear mongering that has descended on the Illinois legislators who voted for justice reform and on Governor Pritzker, who needs to sign the legislation to enact it into law.

Therefore please go to the links on the first page of the document that is attached at the heading “Getting Involved” and take a few minutes

  • to complete the automated process of contacting your legislators to thank them for voting for the bill or letting them know the that you disagree with their failure to do so, and
  • to complete the very simple process of asking the Governor to sign House Bill 3653.

In the first two pages of that document, and in the document that is attached at the heading “Developments in Illinois and Federal Justice,” you will find links to information about the many important provisions of the Illinois legislation: on policing, on conditions of arrest, imprisonment and mandatory supervised release, on ending prison gerrymandering, on victim compensation, and on pretrial justice.  The Pretrial Justice Fairness Act is an important part of the legislation, and you can watch a presentation of the provisions and significance of that Act, which was filmed prior to the approval of the bill by clicking here.

The document that is attached at the heading “Getting Involved” and the documents that are attached under the heading “Sources of Information and Ideas” also contain links to new reports that are important resources for guiding justice reform efforts in Illinois and nationally, and to other upcoming online events where you can learn more about ongoing justice reform efforts and how get involved in those efforts in the coming year.

Closing Out 2020 and Contributing to Justice Reform and the Work Ahead

From the Desk of John McLees…

We approach the end of the year with many reasons to appreciate the dedication of organizations and individuals, including many public officials, whose efforts continue to shine a light on the failures of our justice system, to help those suffering from the consequences, and to develop and implement changes that will bring justice and overcome racial bias. 

Here is a list of organizations that are making important contributions to improving our justice system and that are worthy of our year-end financial support, including links that you can use to learn more about their work and to make a donation.

[And this website is maintained by CDLU.org and you can make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here.]

Please also use the links in the Reports section of the website under the heading Sources of Information and Ideas and the subheading Other Sources of Information and Ideas to access some of the important recent reports mentioned there, including:

  • a November 2020 study from the Guggenheim Foundation concluding that releasing 25 percent of the prisoners in the Illinois Department of Corrections would not result in an increase in crime,
  • a November 2020 study from Loyola University Chicago concluding that reducing the use of cash bail has not resulted in an increase in crime in Cook county,
  • a November 2020 report from the Prison Policy Institute concluding that releasing people pretrial does not harm public safety,
  • a November 2020 statement from a large number of former parole and probation officers calling for probation and parole to be shorter, less punitive and more equitable, and
  • a June 2020 report from the Heartland Alliance on the scale and impact of permanent punishment of people with criminal records in Illinois.

Consider including some of these in your holiday reading and in your consideration of how you can make a difference in helping to bring justice to Illinois and across the country in the coming year.

We hope that you and your families will find ways to relax and celebrate during this unusual holiday season.

More Details on What We All Can Do Now for Eric Rinehart in Lake County and the Fair Tax Amendment to the Illinois Constitution

From the Desk of John McLees…

[DISCLAIMER: As a 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt organization, we do not support or oppose any form of legislation, nor do we advocate on behalf of or against any candidates. 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.]

The Getting Involved section and Advocacy section of the website contain updates on actions that we all need to consider taking now

  • to support approval on November 3 of the Fair Tax Amendment to the Illinois Constitution, to allow the use of a progressive income tax, and
  • to support the election on November 3 of Eric Rinehart as State’s Attorney for Lake County, to give him the opportunity implement his reform agenda.

These additions include:

  • dates and times of opportunities to phone bank between now and the election:
    • in support of approval of the Fair Tax Amendment – every Tuesday and Thursday evening and every Saturday morning and
    • in support of the election of Eric Rinehart – every Wednesday evening, every Saturday afternoon and every Sunday afternoon
  • links to a video, to essays, and to online presentations about the importance of the Fair Tax Amendment, including an onlinepresentation at 6:00 on Wednesday September 23, for which you can Register Here, and
  • information about how to register and participate in a virtual event to support Eiric Rinehar’s campaignat 6:00 on Thursday, September 24th, with featured guest Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

The Getting Involved section and the section on Upcoming Events in Illinois also now contains new about several important online events on reforming our justice system being presented by

  • Chicago Appleseed,
  • The Shriver Center on Poverty Law,
  • The John Howard Association, and
  • The Sentencing Project.

Justice on the Ballot in Illinois– What We All Can Do Now for Eric Reinhart and the Fair Tax Amendment

From the Desk of John McLees…

[DISCLAIMER: As a 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt organization, we do not support or oppose any form of legislation, nor do we advocate on behalf of or against any candidates. 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.]

The stakes are high in the November election in two must-win fights for justice here in Illinois, where we can make a difference if we give them our attention for the next 65 days, starting now.

Supporting Election of Reform Prosecutors – Eric Rinehart and Kim Foxx

In addition to supporting the election of Kim Foxx in Cook County: https://www.kimfoxx.com/, please consider devoting time and resources between now and November to electing Eric Rinehart as Lake County State’s Attorney, to bring change to this significant prosecutor’s office that has been run by opponents of reform for 40 years.  You can learn more about Eric at:  https://rinehartforlakecounty.com/ and about his reform plan at: https://rinehartforlakecounty.com/reform-plan/.  He is running to end racial profiling and a culture of wrongful prosecutions, to upgrade the quality of the prosecutors who serve Lake County, and to build trust between all communities and the courthouse.  

A former public defender, Eric has caught the attention of the criminal justice reform movement and has earned the endorsements of Kim Foxx and the Real Justice PAC: https://realjusticepac.org/.  He has also built a broad coalition of Democratic leaders such as U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, U.S. Congressman Brad Schneider, U.S. Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, former State Senator Daniel Biss, State Representatives Bob Morgan, Dan Didech, Sam Yingling, Lindsey LaPointe, and Will.

Eric needs our support to win this race.  In addition to contributing to his campaign at https://secure.actblue.com/donate/rinehart1, please consider volunteering at his phone banking link:  https://rinehartforlakecounty.com/phone-banking/.  Also consider becoming a host for the online campaign event for Eric on Zoom in late September, featuring Kim Foxx, by committing to write or raise $2500: contact Elizabeth Evans at elizabeth@rinehartforlakecounty.com or 773-876-7472.

Supporting The Fair Tax Amendment                              

Passage of this amendment to the Illinois Constitution, allowing for a progressive income tax in Illinois, will create a fairer tax system, and it will provide resources needed to fund initiatives required to reform our justice system and to address the root causes of crime in our communities. 

This excellent video explains the importance of the Fair Tax proposal:

Please consider participating to the extent that you can in the campaign to approve the Fair Tax, which will require approval by either 60% of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election. 

Maximum efforts are needed to defeat the well-financed interests that are opposing approval of the Fair Tax amendment.  As discussed in more detail in the very helpful document attached here, you can make a difference:

Other Things to Note

The Getting Involved section and other Sections of the Website also highlight some important new resources:  

  • on racial disparities in mass incarceration, on the devastating impact of residency restrictions in Illinois,
  • on the Illinois Supreme Court Commission’s Final Report and Recommendations on Pretrial Practice,
  • on reforming juvenile justice in Illinois, on the accomplishments of Kim Foxx as Cook County State’s Attorney,
  • on the need for legislative changes on the imposition of court costs, fines and fees, on how governors can use their clemency power to liberate thousands of people who are unjustifiably incarcerated in state prisons, on the impact of parole and probation in feeding the mass incarceration crisis,
  • on the “Justice for Black Lives” resolution passed by the Cook County Board of Commissioners to reallocate funds from the Cook County Jail to urgent community needs, and
  • on additional resources for understanding prisons, policing and punishment.


From the Desk of John McLees…

The sections of this website on Getting Involved and Upcoming Events in Illinois highlight some of the rich selection of online programs that will be available to you to watch at scheduled times in coming days and weeks to learn about issues arising in our justice system and work being done to address them. 

Please also note the new section of this website for Webinars, Podcasts, Videos To Watch On-Line, which you will find under the heading Sources of Information and Ideas.  It gathers together information on recordings of webinars, podcasts and conferences that you can watch online at your convenience on demand.

Note in particular that you can registerhere to participate in the Justice 2020 Convening being presented by the Illinois Justice Project and Cabrini Green Legal Aid from 9:00 to 2:45 on Friday July 24, which will be one of the major programs of the year to address issues of policing, courts and incarceration and post release and reentry in Illinois.  After July 24, check the websites of the Illinois Justice Project and Cabrini Green Legal Aid for recordings of that program.

The section on Issue Advocacy in Illinois features a link for you to use to endorse the proposal on the November election ballot to allow Illinois to impose a progressive income tax: https://www.yesforfairtax.org/, and an address to use to request information on how you can volunteer to help in the Fair Tax campaign: volunteer@yesforfairtax.org

Passage of that constitutional amendment will create a fairer tax system and will provide resources needed to fund initiatives that are required to reform our justice system and address the root causes of crime in our communities. 


From the Desk of John McLees…

New resources linked to the website reflect the increasing accessibility of important information through online presentations, both:

    Live online events, including:

And archived briefings, webinars, podcasts and colloquia, including:

  • The University of Chicago Law School June 12, 2020 Colloquium on the Crisis in Policing:

Available here.

  • The NEW Chasing Justice Podcast – with Chesa Boudin, San Francisco State’s Attorney
  •      Subscribe or listen to all episodes to date at: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/chasing-justice/id1517729177 on subjects that include: 
    • Race Policing and Protest with James Forman, Jr.
    • Modern Civil Rights Movements with Angela Davis
    • Prosecutorial Discretion with Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx
    • The Personal is Political with San Francisco State’s Attorney Chesa Boudin and
    • An Epidemic within an Epidemic: The Drug Crisis with Dr. Leana Wen

We hope that you will find the time to watch or listen to some of them and that you will continue your advocacy and continue to read the important reports on criminal justice issues that are coming to us with increasing frequency.  New reports added to the “Other Sources of Ideas and Information” section of the website include:

  • “Failing Grades: State Response to COVID-19 in Jails and Prisons” from the Prison Policy Institute and the ACLU:

https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/failing_grades.html and

  • “Can We Eliminate the Youth Prison (And What Should We Replace It With?)” from the Square One Project of the Columbia University Justice Lab:



From the Desk of John McLees…

One way to dedicate ourselves to fighting for the principle that black lives do indeed matter is to continue to learn about how the criminal justice system operates and about what we can do to address the moral crisis of mass incarceration, which has such a terribly disproportionate impact on the lives of so many black and brown people and their families.

The Reports in the section of the website containing links to “Other Sources of Ideas and Information” now include:

  • The Final Report of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices Concerning Pretrial Reform in the Illinois Criminal Justice System, and
  • The Prison Policy Initiative’s Legislative Guide for Winnable, High-Impact Criminal Justice Reforms, and
  • Two recent reports of the John Howard Association:
    • its IDOC-wide Survey on COVID-19 inside Illinois Prisons and
    • its report: COVID-19 Exposes the Detrimental Impact of Housing Restriction Laws on Releasing People from Prison.

We hope that you will take a look at some of these and other resources that continue to be linked there, in whatever time you have that is not taken up with the proliferating Zoom meetings and webinars.


From the Desk of John McLees…

We hope that you are all safe and well.

We are two months deeper into the COVID-19 crisis in our jails and prisons from the time when citizens and advocates began alerting our public officials of the need for large-scale release of detainees and prisoners from our jails and prisons in order to avoid the creation of COVID-19 hotspots that would kill prisoners and guards and create a public health crisis that would also substantially increase the number of COVID-19 deaths in the general population

The response of Cook County and Illinois state officials has not been adequate, and we are now watching the consequences unfold.

The Reports referenced in the section of the Website with “Other Sources of Ideas and Information” now include a detailed report of ACLU Analytics and University partners that attempts to quantify the impact of this failure, projecting that failure to decarcerate from jails alone will result in from 100,000 to 200,000 additional deaths from COVID-19 in the United States, three-fourths of which will occur outside the jails in the general population.  

Advocacy continues on these issues.  There is a link in the section of the website on Issue Advocacy for signing the petition that the Chicago Community Bond Fund continues to circulate, demanding that Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx do more to decarcerate the Cook County Jail in response to COVID-19.

Please also consider jumping on the short-notice opportunity to get trained tomorrow or on Saturday to engage in Court watching (from your home) to monitor bond decisions being made by Cook County judges during the COVID-19 pandemic, and responding to the short-notice opportunity to participate in the Webinars being presented by The Sentencing Project on May 14 and May 20 on Challenging Mass Incarceration During COVID-19.

But the heightened focus on decarceration and criminal justice reform needs to continue beyond the Coronavirus emergency.  So we encourage you also to read and consider some of the other resources that under Reports in the section of the website on “Other Sources of Ideas and Information”, including the Episcopal Public Policy Network Criminal Justice Series of reports on criminal justice reform, the new organizing and advocacy resource from the Community Justice Exchange and Defender Impact Initiative, and some of the many other reports listed there.         


From the Desk of John McLees…

After more than a month of intense advocacy, there is increasing urgency to confront the failure of State and County officials:

  • to release large numbers of prisoners in order to mitigate the rapidly developing crisis from the spread of the Coronavirus in our prisons and jails and
  • to create minimally acceptable conditions in the jails and the prisons to protect the detainees and guards remaining inside, and their family members and others, from the spread of the virus.

Demanding Release of More Detainees from the Cook County Jail

Please consider signing this new petition asking State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to do more of what is within her power to reduce the population of the Cook County Jail by another 30 percent.  On Friday the Cook County Public Defender and the John Howard Association issued another urgent plea explaining why jail and prison populations in Cook County and in Illinois must be further reduced immediately:

Cook County Jail in particular is a death trap, the number one COVID-19 hotspot in the country according to the New York Times.  Leaving people there who could reasonably be released during this pandemic will result in the needless illness, suffering, and deaths of people in the jail’s custody, staff working inside the jail, and others in the community as our shared health care system becomes overwhelmed.

Writing To Your Cook County Commissioner Now, In Advance of Thursday’s Online Meeting of the Cook County Board

The Cook County Board of Commissioners will hold an online public meeting starting at 10:00 a.m. this Thursday morning April 23.  Discussion of the COVID-19 crisis in the Cook County Jail is on the agenda for that meeting, and the County Board must begin to take responsibility for insuring:

  • that the County maintains conditions in the Jail that will minimize the spread of the virus,
  • that the County provides adequate treatment to detainees who contract the virus, and
  • that the County provides the public with full and accurate information about the situation in the Jail, in order to meet its responsibilities to the detainees, to its employees and to the public. 

Please write to your Cook County Commissioner, if possible prior to Thursday’s meeting, to demand that the County Board take responsibility for insuring the adequacy of current and planned responses to the COVID-19 crisis in the Jail in light of the failure of Sheriff Dart to create conditions in the Jail that are needed to deal with the spread of the virus in the Jail, and his failure to report truthfully and completely on the situation in the Jail and the condition of the inmates who have acquired the virus.  We can also contribute to timely resolution of these issues by asking the County Board to agree to allow court-appointed independent monitors into the Jail, as requested by the plaintiffs in the pending U.S. Federal Court proceedings in the case of Mays vs. Dart.

For your convenience we have included below a draft of a message that you can modify and send to your County Commissioner to discuss your reasons for urging the County Board to address the COVID-19 crisis in the Jail.

You can easily send a message to your Commissioner by pressing the Forward command for this message, completing and modifying the draft message below as you like, signing it (with your address) and sending the message to your Commissioner by e-mail after deleting this introductory message from me.

If you don’t know your Commissioner’s name and e-mail address, you can find that information by:

  • entering your information and doing the search requested at the following link to identify the district number of your County Board District:


  • and then going to the following link and clicking on the picture of the Commissioner for that numbered District to find her or his contact information, including e-mail address:


You can also provide written comments prior to Thursday’s meeting on the urgent need to address the conditions in the Jail, which will be read at the meeting, and will become part of the record of the meeting, at:


In response to the request on that form for “File ID number,” you can simply include words such as “COVID-19 in the Cook County Jail” , and you should check the box for “Provide Written Comment for Information Only.”

Thursday’s online meeting of the Cook County Board is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. and will be open to the public.  You can watch the meeting at the following link:


Thank you for making your voice heard in a way that can matter to all of us, and in particular to the most vulnerable among us, in minimizing the suffering and economic loss from the current crisis.

Solidarity Caravan on Tuesday April 7 to Support Immediate Decarceration in Illinois to Protect Public Health During COVID-19

From the Desk of John McLees…

After three weeks of intense advocacy for immediate release of large numbers of older prisoners and those who have been accused or convicted of minor crimes from Illinois prisons and jails, it still hasn’t happened, in spite of widespread recognition that this is essential in order to mitigate the development of a public health crisis from the spread of Covid-19 in our prisons and jails. 

On April 2 a coalition of advocates filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Corrections and Governor Pritzker demanding the immediate release of incarcerated people who are at high medical risk and those who are scheduled for release in the next few months.  The fact that a lawsuit is required illustrates the continuing resistance from the Governor and from Cook County officials to exercising the power that they have to do what needs to be done to mitigate this crisis.

What you and your friends can do, in addition to joining Tuesday’s Caravan described below:

  • It is still as relevant as ever to write to Governor Pritzker and Illinois Department of Corrections Director Jeffries at the links provided in the attached document on Getting Involved in Criminal Justice Reform, with the specific messages that you can find for them there. 
  • Please also open and sign these letters to Governor Pritzker and Cook County officials asking for early release of juveniles from youth prisons and from the juvenile temporary detention center, and for other protections for the juveniles who remain in custody. 
  • You can participate in the campaign relaunched on April 3 of writing and calling Chief Judge Evans and other Cook County officials to demand mass release of many more of those being held at Cook County Jail, using the call-in scripts, phone numbers and email addresses are available here: chicagobond.org/call-in.
  • And you can still make your impact felt by accessing and sending electronically this open letter to Kim Foxx, who has the power release many prisoners in the Illinois Department of Corrections and to advocate for release of individual prisoners from the Cook County Jail.

Tuesday’s Solidarity Caravan

If you have a car, do consider joining the “Solidarity Caravan” (a protest you do in your car! Social distancing!) that a coalition of community groups are organizing for Tuesday, April 7 beginning at 10 AM, to demand mass release from adult and youth prisons and jails and immigration detention.  You can get more details about participating in the Caravan by accessing this invitation email, and you can register to participate in the Caravan by using this registration form

As noted in the registration form, those who register will receive a text message on Tuesday morning telling them where the Caravan will begin, and will also receive text messages throughout the day on where the Caravan will be a particular times during the day.

You can let others know about the Caravan, by inviting them directly, but please do NOT share information about the Caravan on social media.