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COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS: Results of the EJI Criminal Justice Survey are In

Jul 09, 2021 08:54AM ● By Editor
July 9, 2021

On March 31, Cook County’s Equity in Justice Initiative published its Cook County Criminal Justice Survey, an inaugural effort at collecting anonymous opinions about justice from people of all backgrounds who have interacted with the local criminal justice system. Eighty people responded to the survey during its two-week circulation. This article is meant to provide a summary description of survey results.

Interaction with the criminal justice system. Those who responded could choose among eleven ways that they had interacted with the criminal justice system, including among others: “I reported a crime,” I was a victim of a reported crime,” I was a juror,” and “I was arrested.” Many selected more than one method of interaction with the system. The category of interaction with the system which received the most affirmative responses was “I reported a crime” but a high number of responders also said that their spouse or immediate family member interacted with the criminal justice system. Seven of those responding had been the victim of a reported crime, 19 were arrested or charged with a crime in court, and twelve who responded work within the criminal justice system. The vast majority of responders (about 86%) had interacted with the criminal justice system within the last five years.

What values should be guiding the criminal justice system? The survey provided a list of six defined values which participants were to rank in order of most important values that criminal justice professionals should use to guide their practices. The values most frequently listed top three by respondents (in order of frequency) were: public safety, personal accountability, and justice for crime victims. A few of the values that participants entered into the survey themselves included:

Protecting vulnerable citizens

Restorative justice

Enforcing the law and all 3 constitutions (US/MN/Tribal)

Community policing

Stop law enforcement harassment and overall abuse of power, better training and or accountability for insubordination

Preventing excessive charges by prosecutor

Treatment for mental health over jail or prison time

How should criminal justice prioritize its work? Respondents were asked what issues should be a priority for the criminal justice system in Cook County. Of the given options; including property crimes, domestic violence, drug crimes, traffic enforcement, mental health incident response, and sex crimes; respondents most favored prioritizing domestic violence, sex crimes, drug crimes, and mental health incident response. Some survey respondents added different areas the system should focus on, including police accountability, impaired driving, and school bus stop arm enforcement.

Advocating for change in the system. Most people participating in the survey agreed that they would advocate for at least some change in the criminal justice system in Cook County. Responses about what type of change is desirable in the criminal justice system in Cook County were extremely varied, but included the following:

Better training for officers/individuals investigating alleged crimes

More resources for prevention of extreme poverty, mental illness and addiction

Stronger sentences for repeaters of violent crimes

Prosecutors should do more to protect people who have been victims of sexual assault.

More control of drug peddlers

Support for restorative justice

Why are perpetrators innocent until proven guilty and victims are shamed and required to provide proof all throughout?

I strongly believe that the court system needs to re-evaluate the way they choose to prosecute cases (or lack thereof).

Downsize law enforcement, defund law enforcement.

Demographics. Respondents were given the opportunity to identify themselves as affiliated with eleven different types of identities, with options for “elder,” “youth,” “non-hetero sexual orientation,” and “person with mental illness,” among others. A respondent could select multiple identities or choose not to respond at all. Over twenty percent of those responding to the “identities” section identified themselves as “elders.” Fifteen individuals identified themselves as non-white, racial minority, or Native, Indigenous, or First Nations. Nineteen chose to define their identity in their own words rather than choose one of the pre-defined responses.

Limitations. Results of any study need to be weighed in their value according to the strengths and limitations of the survey method. Limitations in this study include the number of participants. While eighty responses is a good reach for an initial run, the more responses gathered, the better the results represent the true views of a population. The vast majority of responses came from the online survey, which could be completed using a phone, computer, or any internet-connected device. Only two hand-written paper surveys were collected despite distribution around the county, which would indicate that the results are not representative of the portion of the population which does not have access to or prefer the use of online resources.

Next steps. The Equity in Justice Initiative members will now attempt to distill survey results into action steps which criminal justice professionals can take to improve the local system. The results will guide future listening sessions held by EJI. A full report of survey results will become available by request by the end of summer, 2021. 

Equity in Justice Initiative is an advisory group created in 2020 with a vision to create solutions through community awareness, dialogue, educational opportunities, and recommendations for change. EJI is made up of a combination of criminal justice professionals, advocates for victims of domestic and sexual violence, and representatives from the Grand Portage Anishinaabe.

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

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