Persistence Needed to Advance Social Justice in Cook County

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), January 19, 2017 | Go to article overview

Persistence Needed to Advance Social Justice in Cook County


As Cook County Board President, my responsibilities are primarily public health and public safety. They are 87 percent of my budget, the core of my mission and the intersection of some of the most challenging issues our communities face.

Throughout much of the region, crime and violence remain at historic lows, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics. But there are areas here in Cook County, as in the rest of the country, where violence and crime are in fact increasing. These are communities, which are both racially and economically segregated, where young men of color, traumatized by violence and poverty, lack opportunities for education and employment. These are the communities where violence flourishes. Victims and perpetrators are one and the same, and innocent bystanders are caught in the crossfire.

And for those of you who don't call these communities home, remember that safety, much like health, isn't confined by any geographical boundary. It is as impossible to have a violent community and a safe county, just as it is to have a sick individual and a healthy family. There is simply no way to address crime and violence without, at the same time, building more economically viable communities.

I've made no secret that, in order for our criminal justice system to be effective, it must be reformed -- both in terms of how it treats our most vulnerable residents and how we allocate and spend our tax dollars. This has centered on the need to reduce the overreliance on pretrial detention. The United States has the world's highest incarceration rate. Think about that -- we put more people in jail than any other country. We represent about 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's prison population.

Only 7 percent of the people in the Cook County jail are currently serving a sentence. 70 percent of those in the jail awaiting trial are accused of a nonviolent crime and they are detained because they cannot pay their bail. What I often say is that our jail is at the intersection of racism and poverty: 86 percent of those in the jail are Black and Brown. With the support and assistance of the Illinois Supreme Court, and using an assessment tool identified by the Chief Judge, we have been able to provide more complete, current and relevant information to all parties involved regarding the risk and community ties of individuals going through bond court. …

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Persistence Needed to Advance Social Justice in Cook County
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