Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton On Criminal Justice Reform

Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton
Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton joined the Morning Shift to discuss sentencing reform. Jason Marck/WBEZ
Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton
Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton joined the Morning Shift to discuss sentencing reform. Jason Marck/WBEZ

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton On Criminal Justice Reform

Gov. JB Pritzker signed an executive order earlier this month to reexamine Illinois’ criminal justice system, tapping Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton to spearhead the reform effort.

The new program will be called the Justice, Equity and Opportunity (JEO) Initiative, and will have three full-time staff and will be housed under the office of the lieutenant governor.

“It’s time to reduce the recidivism rate and re-entry through a holistic approach that addresses opportunity both inside and outside of our prisons,” Gov. Pritzker said in announcing the program.

The JEO Initiative is expected to focus on sentencing, policing, recidivism and on the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Lt. Gov. Stratton stops by the Morning Shift to lay out what her office’s priorities will be when it comes to criminal justice reform.

Gov. Pritzker’s executive order includes sentencing reform

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton: There’s been discussion about how we can use assessments to better have a sense of what is best for a person who has entered the justice system. What would be the best course of action to take for that person? But we have to make sure that these assessments — because what we’ve seen throughout the years and looking at the data is oftentimes, the assessments are often laced with bias, sometimes even implicit bias as a part of that process. And so we want to make sure that when we’re assessing that the judges are given a real tool, to use their discretion, but to also base it on some real data about who is at risk. Who would be a risk or a threat to public safety, who does not need to be in the community for a period of time? But also, who would be better served by other services, such as mental health services?

So we know that there are a number of people who are incarcerated when what they really need is mental health services, and I think of a bill that I was the chief sponsor of: the Women’s Correctional Services Act when I was a state representative. Over 85 percent of the women who are incarcerated at Logan Correctional Center here in Illinois have experienced trauma…and that is what has led them to the criminal justice system. 75 percent of the women that are incarcerated — I believe it’s about 75 percent at Logan Correctional Center — are also on the mental health docket. So if that is the case, what are some of the services that people could get in their communities that could help better serve them than simply saying, “The only solution is being incarcerated.”

Legalizing recreational marijuana in a fair way

Stratton: [Legalizing marijuana] is not just an issue of revenue to our state. The idea of adult-use cannabis is not just about bringing revenue to our state, although that is one of the things that, as [Gov. Pritzker] mentioned in our budget address, is something that we will look forward to, as we do need revenue to come into our state to meet the needs of Illinois residents. But it’s also a social justice issue, and that comes in two particular ways. First of all, we do have to look at how people who have low-level drug offenses — how we can clear their records upon the point of legalization of adult-use cannabis.

Because that will help open up doors of opportunity for them to successfully reintegrate into their communities, and have opportunity to be successful, not just in the traditional ways that we think of, but we also have to make sure that they have an opportunity to engage in this new industry that will make a lot of money for a lot of people. And if the people who are from these communities, who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs — black and brown communities all across our state that have disproportionately high rates of touching the criminal justice system — if they are blocked because of their records from being a part of this industry, from being able to work in this industry, to have licenses in this industry, to really have an opportunity to benefit from this industry, then that’s a problem. So we see the social justice aspect. We have to expunge records, and we also have to make sure that people have an opportunity to be in this industry as well.

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity by Char Daston. Click play to hear the full conversation.

GUEST: Juliana Stratton, Illinois lieutenant governor

LEARN MORE: Pritzker names Lt. Gov. Stratton to lead criminal justice reform initiative (The Southern 2/11/19)