Preckwinkle Headlines Criminal Justice Conference

Student Group Organized “A New Way Forward: Criminal Justice in Chicago and Cook County.”

By Sarah Lewis

Community leaders gathered at a conference on Saturday at the Harris School to discuss criminal justice reform throughout Chicago. Among these leaders were Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Inspector General of the City of Chicago Joe M. Ferguson, and Officer Vanessa Westley of the Chicago Police Department (CPD).

The summit, “A New Forward: Criminal Justice in Chicago and Cook County,” was led by Harris School students actively involved in Students for Criminal Justice Reform (SCJR), including second-year co-founders Barbara Barreno-Paschall and Daniel Kowalski. The conference featured interactive panels, a keynote address by Preckwinkle, discussion workshops, and a closing address from Reverend Alexander Sharp. 

At the summit, Preckwinkle elaborated her plan for a tax on soda. Preckwinkle’s soda tax would help to avoid further criminal justice budget cuts in the future.

“I could put forth a proposal that would significantly impair our criminal justice system over the next three years and undermine the progress we are making in public health,” Preckwinkle said to the  Chicago Tribune . “It would mean at least 1,000 fewer positions in our criminal justice system, including prosecutors, public defenders, sheriff’s deputies and critical support staff, programs and services.”

The overarching goal of Preckwinkle’s plan to tax sugary drinks at a penny per ounce is to evade extensive cuts in health care and police departments, among other sectors. Preckwinkle also suggested a plan to increase allocation towards anti-violence initiatives, raising their budget to roughly $6 million. Preckwinkle’s main point was that further budget cuts would only bring more damage to the criminal justice system by keeping inmates who have already fulfilled their sentences in prison and even suspending trials.

In addition to Preckwinkle’s keynote address, the four panels addressed jail and prison reform, policing strategies for better police-community relations, the legal system, and community and youth engagement.

Ferguson participated in panel three—“Policing and Strengthening Police–Community Relations”—in which topics such as the fundamentals of policing and youth intervention were explored.

“Fundamental to good policing is… good relationships and a community policing program that is not a tactic to be enforced in certain places, but a philosophy,” Ferguson said. “In addition, we have to hold our leaders into account. Political will from leaders who have the authority to act is required.  Every interaction is a human interaction and human dynamic, and the basic norms of human intercourse actually matter a lot.”