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:
  • 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. 

Action To Take Now to Support Decarceration in Illinois to Protect Public Health During COVID-19!

From the Desk of John McLees…

Our new life of staying at home gives us time to dig deeper into learning about our criminal justice system, and efforts to reform it.  The website has been updated to include links to some important new reports for us to study on criminal justice issues, including

A new Episcopal Public Policy Network Criminal Justice Series, consisting of comprehensive reports on    

  • School-to-Prison Pipeline
  • Public Defenders
  • Sentencing,
  • During Incarceration
  • Re-entry       

A new comprehensive report of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission on Women in Prison: Seeking Justice Behind Bars.

But this is also an urgent moment for advocacy, for the immediate reduction of the populations of our prisons and jails.  All states and counties must release large numbers of prisoners and must refrain from incarcerating additional low-level offenders and those pending trial for the duration of the current crisis in order to reduce the impact of the upcoming outbreaks of COVID-19 in the tight confinement of incarceration, which will otherwise lead to an epidemic of deaths of those who are incarcerated, especially those who are older and weaker, and a massive public health crisis as those concentrations of the disease spill into the general population.

Please respond immediately by supporting efforts underway to demand that public officials at all levels exercise the power that they have to release large numbers of prisoners who pose little or no danger to society.

In Illinois please use the links and scripts that we have provided in the attached documents on Getting Involved and on Issue Advocacy in Ilinois to correspond immediately with State’s Attorney Foxx, Chief Judge Evans, Sheriff Dart, Governor Pritzker and Illinois Department of Corrections Director Jefferies, asking them to take the emergency actions that they have the authority to take now to reduce prison and jail populations to mitigate this crisis

I have also provided links to more information about how those who are incarcerated, especially those who are elderly or physically compromised, are at heightened risk of death from COVID-19 as a result of their confinement and about how failure to release older prisoners now, to allow them to obtain the social distancing that is not available in prison, will most likely result in a local and national public health crisis.

Priorities at This Moment in Advocating for Justice in Illinois

From the desk of John McLees…

Soon the spring session of the Illinois Legislature will heat up, but our priorities now through mid-March must be:

  • to support Kim Foxx and her reform agenda, by doing all that is necessary to enable her to win Democratic nomination for reelection as Cook County State’s Attorney in the March 17 primary, and
  • to build support for the comprehensive reform of pretrial justice in Illinois by enacting the Pretrial Fairness Act.

So in my additions the document at the Getting Involved tab you will find information about:

  • opportunities to support State’s Attorney Fox by donating, canvassing, phone and text banking, and writing to Mayor Lightfoot at [email protected] to thank her for endorsing Kim Foxx for reelection and asking her to campaign actively for the State’s Attorney between now and the primary and to reject the false narrative of the Federation of Police, and
  • ways to support thoughtful reform of our broken and unjust pretrial system in Illinois by writing your representatives and joining in a lobbying day in Springfield on Tuesday February 25.       

Thank you for considering what you can do to help achieve these key objectives, to maintain our momentum toward justice in our County and our State.  

Improving Criminal Justice in 2020

From the Desk of John McLees…

The good work being done by many organizations to understand the operation of our criminal justice system, and to improve it, continues to accumulate. 

In addition to checking out the events and opportunities for volunteering and training listed here for the new year, there are a number of year-end reports that deserve our attention, including:

Please note in particular the first annual report of Governor Pritzker’s Justice Equity and Opportunity Initiative –, issued last week by Illinois Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton, which sets forth the Governor’s ambitious agenda to eliminate cash bail, divert low level drug offenses from the criminal justice system, and reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentences.

The Illinois legislative session will be gearing up soon with many specific proposals for justice reform.  We hope that you will consider kicking off the season by writing to your Representatives to ask for their support of House Bill 1615, which would limit the scope of prosecution for Felony Murder, which now results in convictions on very serious charges of those who did not participate in the criminal act in question.  If you don’t know the name of your Representative, you can find it here:, and for your convenience here is a draft letter on this topic that you can modify and send. CLICK HERE.                                   

Please also take advantage of the new year to check out and subscribe to some of the regular reports on justice-related issues and opportunities, including the following:

November Notes

From the Desk of John McLees…

Please check the updated information in the section of the website for new information on upcoming events, opportunities for advocacy and some important new reports on the criminal justice system and efforts to reform it that are listed in the section on Other Sources of Information and Ideas. 

Please note in particular:

  • The Forum, with a distinguished panel, that will occur in Chicago on Thursday December 5 to discuss justice reforms that are ongoing in the operation of policing and prosecution in Chicago and Cook County (details available at, and
  • The opportunities that you have now and in 2020 to get involved in supporting the growing movement around the country to elect prosecutors who are committed to real reform in the administration of justice, by writing to [email protected] to sign up to get updates from the   Accountable Justice Action Fund:

Finally, here is a list of organizations that are making important contributions to improving our criminal 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.

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 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 [email protected].
  • 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
  • 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


Legislative Update: Illinois Legislative Efforts


  • The ACLU’s 2019 Illinois Legislative Wrap Up 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:
  • 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:


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
    • 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 ( 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:
    • don’t forget to take a look at the summer reading suggestions in the attached update, and
    • do consider subscribing to some of the regular updates that are avaialble on developments relating to the justice system, including:


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.