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 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 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
  • 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:


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 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

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 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 – and – 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