Cook State’s Attorney Alvarez’s decision a step in the right direction but system remains broken

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Contact: Ivan Moreno, imoreno@communityrenewalsociety.org, 773.799.6455

Cook State’s Attorney Alvarez’s decision a step in the right direction but system remains broken

The decision by Cook County State’s Attorney Alvarez to loosen marijuana penalties is a positive step toward reducing racial and economic disparities in Cook County’s criminal justice system.  'The overwhelming majority of individuals arrested, charged and incarcerated for misdemeanor marijuana possession are poor, black and Latino” said Byron Hobbs, Executive Director for Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL).  “Our organization, along with a larger coalition of community and faith groups including the Reclaim Campaign, has been organizing for over a year calling on Anita Alvarez to use the prosecutorial powers of her office to reform a broken and structurally racist criminal justice system in Cook County, so this announcement is good but much more needs to be done.”

Reverend Curtiss De Young, Executive Director of Community Renewal Society, a member organization of the Reclaim Campaign, said, “We’re glad that the Cook County State’s Attorney Alvarez is finally moving in the direction that stakeholders and advocates have been calling for. While we applaud this initial step, it must be part of comprehensive reform that includes felony review of all drug cases and thorough expansion of pretrial diversion programs.”

The Cook County jail is the largest single site pre-trial detention center in the U.S., with the majority of the incarcerated population waiting for trial due to an inability to post bond for low level non-violent offenses.  Studies have shown that 70% of those incarcerated are pre-trial detainees charged with first time or repeat non-violent offenses.  Individuals who spend time in jail awaiting trial are much more likely to face challenges after release than those who are not detained.  This has led to higher recidivism rates and often leads to a lifelong cycle of incarceration and poverty.

“State's Attorney Alvarez should apply this decision to anyone who is currently incarcerated for misdemeanor marijuana possession and call for his/her immediate release” said Ruby Pinto, a leader with SOUL and the #DecarcerateChi campaign. "Racial and economic justice are inseparable from this discussion, and it is the responsibility of our elected officials to be honest about that. Anita Alvarez needs to acknowledge that structural racism and classism are at the root of this flawed system and should serve as the basis for any reform efforts.”

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