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Illinois Senate Bill 2476 mandated that a Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission be created. This commission will work to determine if current and future state laws and policies contribute to the disproportionate representation of minorities in jails and prisons. The group is chaired by Illinois State Senator Mattie Hunter, and Illinois State Representative Art Turner. The group will provide legislative and policy recommendations designed to address any disproportionate impact found to result from state drug laws and/or their application. A research team composed of members from Loyola University, Roosevelt University, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority has been convened to assist and guide the work of the Study Commission. The research team will provide information on economic, policy and research trends. Members of the IJJC serve on the Study Commission and will continue working with the group to reduce DMC in Illinois.
Illinois State Senate Bill 0776, enacted in August 2008 (20 ILCS 1305/10-32),focused on deteriorating conditions and low achievement for African American males across the state. To address this issue a Task Force on the Condition of African American Men in Illinois was created to identify the causal factors for these conditions; catalog current services available to African American males; identify gaps in those services; and develop benchmarks for future success. The Task Force was also charged with creating an executive report to the Governor's office, with specific legislative recommendations on how change could occur. The Task Force focused on five areas: health; economic empowerment; fatherhood; education; and the criminal justice system. The statewide DMC Coordinator served on this task force and prepared material for the report advocating the need for an automatic expungement system. Since the delivery of the report to the Illinois General Assembly, Illinois Senate Bill 1030 has passed, which will simplify the expungement process, making it automatic in limited circumstances. Several of the legislative recommendations included in the report directly impacted DMC. The statewide Coordinator continues to work with this initiative, as it serves as a major piece of advocacy for DMC efforts.
Public Act 95-0846 was signed in to law on August 15, 2008, and became effective on January 1, 2009. This law provides that the court shall cause counsel to be appointed at the time a petition is filed, and that a detention or shelter care hearing cannot be held until the minor has had an adequate opportunity to consult with counsel. This new law allows the defense attorney adequate time to meet and interview the minor and family prior to the detention hearing to provide the best options and outcome for the juvenile. The Juvenile Justice Initiative, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Models For Change Initiative, the Children and Family Justice Center of Northwestern School of Law, the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender, and the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority are all working together to help implement the early access to counsel in PA 95-0846 through distribution of materials, meetings, and technical assistance. The working group has held meetings across the state and is working with individual jurisdictions to implement the law.
One of the key efforts in implementation of this law was a grant from the IJJC to the First Defense Legal Aid (FDLA) organization, which allowed the FDLA to offer comprehensive representation to its juvenile clients. The FDLA's mission and program are unique, both nationally and in the Chicago community. FDLA provides a free, reliable, and experienced attorney to individuals who are arrested in the City of Chicago. Through the program, staff and volunteer attorneys are on call 24-hours a day to represent individuals who have been taken into police custody. The attorney helps the client understand and assert his/her rights, advocates for necessary medical care, and documents any allegations of police abuse. FDLA then forwards the client's signed declaration of his rights and the attorney's paperwork to the Office of the Public Defender so that, if the client is later charged with a crime, it may be used to protect the client's constitutional rights in a criminal proceeding. FDLA is also engaged in educational outreach, community organizing, and systemic reform activities.
The goal of the IJJC in involving the FDLA in support of PA 95-0846 is to decrease the disproportionate minority contact of juveniles within the criminal system. Legal representation of juveniles is of particular importance for two reasons: 1) juveniles are more susceptible to police coercion and therefore more likely to give false confessions; and 2) it is vital to educate juveniles about the realities of the criminal justice system and how it drastically differs from what they see portrayed in the media. FDLA provides guidance and continued advice to our juvenile clients regarding after-school programs, mentoring, educational opportunities, and help them to navigate the court system.
It is anticipated that these efforts will help juveniles to avoid repeat contact with the criminal system. In the last year, FDLA's Juvenile Justice Program has built a strong foundation and has begun to see success related to its efforts. The grant allowed FDLA to purchase a comprehensive database and adapt it as necessary for gathering relevant data. It is the expectation of the SAG that this pilot project will have an obvious impact on DMC in the implementation service area.