Woods - IL Coalition for the Fair Sentencing 2020

    Project: Research project

    Project Details


    The Coalition made significant progress in the previous grant period toward many of the proposed outcomes. Long-term incarceration is both the result of embedded structural racism in the criminal justice system and a driver for creating economic disenfranchisement and poverty in impacted communities. Thus, bringing back individuals to society is a critical piece of the Coalition’s efforts. This year, legislation to bring back parole for individuals up to age 21 at the time of the offense (HB 531) successfully passed the Illinois General Assembly and is now awaiting the Governor’s signature. The passage of the bill was the result of a decade-long effort by Coalition members and partners and was—this year—particularly focused on a grassroots strategy of engaging policy makers in conversations with those directly impacted by long term sentences, particularly currently and formerly incarcerated persons, their families, and survivor families. While this reform is not retroactive, the Coalition and its allies are actively engaged in a strategy to make retroactive criminal reform legislation (such as HB531). To this end, the Coalition has worked closely with a wide range of partners including Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI), Communities United, Restore Justice Illinois, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and others. The Coalition also strengthened partnerships with Cabrini Green Legal Aid, the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender, and the Shriver Center—among others—in working toward its policy goals. In litigation, the Coalition’s efforts around mandatory JLWOP sentences continues to bear fruit; more than 10 individuals have returned to their families and communities and many have taken on the role of becoming advocates and spokespersons on the relevant issues. With regard to those serving discretionary and de facto JLWOP sentences, as well as those who were over the age of 18 at the time of the offense, the Coalition submitted various amicus briefs in key cases in the Illinois Supreme Court, namely People v. Buffer (50-year sentence for a juvenile) and People v. Harris (18-year-old serving JLWOP). Buffer remains pending in the Court, but the Court issued a complicated decision in Harris, which provided that 18-year-olds serving life sentences did not benefit from the protections of the 8th Amendment, but that the Illinois Constitution may be an avenue for such individuals to seek relief. Thus, the Coalition has communicated with attorneys about these decisions and is in the process of convening “brown bag” discussions with attorneys and experts to develop legal strategies and recruit attorneys on these cases (as well as cases involving those serving discretionary JLWOP). The Coalition has worked toward strengthening its public education campaign by partnering with RJI to cultivate the voices of formerly incarcerated individuals and their families. These individuals have become effective spokespersons, leading the fight toward reforms in Illinois. The Coalition has also actively engaged with the media with respect to litigation and policy efforts and has sought out outlets open to these stories, outside of Chicago, in an effort to bring reform to other parts of the state.
    Effective start/end date2/1/201/31/24


    • Woods Fund of Chicago (AGMT 5/4/23)


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