The Illinois House of Representatives has created a new committee to address inequalities in the state’s criminal justice system, while the chairman of the new committee faces his own legal problems.
State Rep. LaShawn Ford is the chairman of the new Restorative Justice Committee.
He’s also been indicted for bank fraud.
“Even before the situation that has occurred with me, you will see that my record shows that I’ve always fought for a fairness in justice,” Ford said.
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Ford said he wants to address some wide-ranging issues in his new position, from finding jobs for ex-offenders to disparities in sentencing guidelines to reducing violent crime in Chicago.
“There is a state of emergency that’s going on in the communities,” Ford said.
Ford’s fellow Democratic committee members also expressed a desire to use the committee to discuss the variety of issues that relate to the criminal justice system.
“We’ve seen in the debate after the terrible shooting incident in Connecticut how issues of criminal law and mental health and, you know, other different categories sort of intersect,” said State. Rep. Greg Harris. “And I think we need to take a holistic look at all of those things.”
But several House committees already address the individual issues the committee members said they hope to discuss. Harris said the Restorative Justice Committee will address all sides of these issues.
“I think often in government, things tend to go in silos where you look at things based on the source who uses the funds and there’s a lot of interrelationships between levels of education and levels of job preparedness and the availability of jobs in the community along with mental health issues and substance abuse and crime,” he said. “So to look at them just in a - isolate the little box may not give you the whole picture.”
“The problem is, we’re kind of fragmented,” said another Restorative Justice Committee member, State Rep. Mary Flowers. “We’ve passed laws that really don’t - we really don’t communicate very well.”
Flowers gave the example of how the state mandates that children go to school, but not all kids have the same resources once they get to school.
She said one of her goals of the committee is to address how people in Illinois view crime, echoing the approach of restorative justice as a crime fighting technique. Flowers said she wants to use the committee to prevent violent offenders from committing a crime in the first place.
“It’s easy to talk about putting 200 more police officers on the streets,” she said, speaking of last week’s announcement from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel that he was reassigning administrative police positions to patrol the streets. “But the police officers gonna come in contact with these same people and the only thing they gonna do is lock them up. For the most part, some are deserved. But then what? They didn’t lock them up for life. They want to come back on the streets. Where are the jobs? Where are (sic) the training? Where are the opportunities?”
For his part, Ford, the chairman of the committee, said he hopes to find ways to save the cash-strapped state money by cutting down on things like high recidivism rates in Illinois’ prisons.
No legislation has been assigned to the committee yet. House Republicans have not announced who from their caucus will serve on the Restorative Justice Committee.