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COUNTY CONNECTIONS: An Update on the Equity in Justice Initiative

Dec 24, 2020 11:08AM ● By Editor

By Molly Hicken, Cook County Attorney, and Pat Eliasen, Cook County Sheriff from Cook County MN - December 23, 2020


Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending. ― Maria Robinson

The Equity in Justice Initiative (“EJI”) is an advisory group created in 2020 with a mission to discover, acknowledge and build awareness about what inequities exist in our justice system, and to create equity in Cook County for all. The group is a collaboration between the Cook County Attorney and the Cook County Sheriff and is made up of a combination of criminal justice professionals, advocates for victims of domestic and sexual violence, and representatives from the Grand Portage Band. EJI first met in August. Our vision is to create solutions to inequities in criminal justice through community awareness, dialogue, educational opportunities, and recommendations for change.

An important goal of ours as leaders is that each person who interacts with the criminal justice system in Cook County has the same level of protection and is treated with the same level of respect as any other person, no matter their skin color, national origin, religion, abilities, sexual orientation or identity, family heritage, zip code, or neighborhood. We recognize that our system of justice in this country has historically impacted indigenous and people of color, and other marginalized groups, differently and unfairly. We cannot deny that Cook County is a part of that system. 

An important first step for the group was to allow time and space to discuss the specific biases we see showing up in our community and to explore how they affect our community members and their safety. Only after we begin to define the problem we have gathered to solve can we then talk about solutions. Three important questions we decided to seek answers to are: 1) How does bias effect people’s sense of safety in Cook County? 2) How does bias effect people’s sense of justice in Cook County? 3) How can the criminal justice system in Cook County make all people feel safe and welcome in our community?

In 2021, the Equity in Justice Initiative will be asking you for your opinions about justice in Cook County. In the coming days, we will publish an online survey with the goal of collecting your perceptions of criminal justice in Cook County. We would like to hear from people who have interacted with our system in almost any way, whether you have been pulled over and cited for a traffic violation, or you have served on a jury. We want to hear from those accused of crimes and those harmed by crimes. The “Criminal Justice System” as we define it for this survey includes law enforcement, criminal courts, probation, and prosecution. The online survey allows anonymous responses so that we may collect the most honest and comprehensive feedback from the maximum number of participants. Please answer the survey yourself and pass it along to your friends and neighbors who have experience with the justice system in Cook County.

A second opportunity to give feedback about what “Justice” means in Cook County will be a series of listening sessions held in the first quarter of 2021. We invite any interested member of the public to come discuss their experiences with the system, and to share the values they wish the criminal justice system to uphold. The listening sessions will likely be held virtually, with a repeated series of in-person listening sessions held once the pandemic subsides. Please watch for more information about the first round of listening sessions in February.

Finally, we invite you to contact us directly to share your stories of how you have seen the justice system work, or not work, in Cook County. Courageous leadership from those you have elected to administer fair and equal justice in your community means we must hear from you about both the good and the bad aspects of the work we do. We pledge to listen with open hearts and to transform what we have learned into a plan for improved administration of justice in your community. 

Contact Molly Hicken at (218) 387-3671 or [email protected]

Contact Pat Eliasen at (218) 387-3075 or [email protected]

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service