Among the supporters of a criminal justice reform plan proposed by Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Andrea Zopp is U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL), whose district includes many West Side neighborhoods in Chicago.
“I think it’s an excellent plan that addresses many of the same issues I have been talking about for some time now,” Davis told atombash.com. “This plan offers solutions to real life situations and longtime barriers that make it hard for ex-offenders to get back on their feet.”
The plan calls for reducing incarceration, reforming juvenile justice, supporting successful re-entry, and improving police and community relations.
And besides Davis, who endorsed Zopp’s candidacy last week, 24 former assistant U.S. attorneys said they also support her criminal justice plan.
“Andrea understands that to improve public safety, we must refocus our scarce resources on policies that can and will make a difference,” said Scott Lassar, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. “From her work as a state and federal prosecutor, she has experience understanding the kinds of laws we need to make that a reality.”
For Zopp, who in 1992 became the first woman and black to be appointed first assistant in the Cook County State’s Attorney Office, she said her goal is to ensure that ex-offenders are afforded the same opportunities as anyone else.
“A felony conviction hinders a person’s ability to find gainful employment, housing and even education assistance in the form of financial aid,” Zopp said Thursday during a round table discussion at Rainbow PUSH headquarters with a group of criminal justice advocates. “We have to reduce the levels of people being incarcerated because we are incarnating way too many people. We need to find a pathway to reform our criminal justice system especially our juvenile system.”
U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and state Sen. Napoleon Harris (D-IL), who are also Democratic U.S. Senate candidates, said they plan to unveil their criminal justice reform plan by year-end.
And U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who is seeking re-election, said he already has a reform plan in place.
Ex-offenders like Andre Jackson, 60, said a lack of job opportunities often causes people to become repeat offenders.
“After I served my time in prison and was released no one would hire me because of my background. It’s easy to get discouraged when doors are being slammed in your face left and right,” said Jackson, who grew on the Chicago’s Far South Side.
In 2007, Jackson said he was released from prison after spending 10 years for possession of a controlled substance.
“The doors are still being closed on me because I have a background. Washington needs to pass a bill that would allow those with non-violent felonies to have it sealed or expunged automatically,” added Jackson.
Davis said he would support legislation that would make expungements automatic for non-violent felony convictions.
“Every seven years information on your credit report is automatically removed so why can’t it be the same for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies? After so long it should automatically be removed from your criminal record,” said Davis.
The Safer Foundation is a Chicago nonprofit that assist ex-offenders with job readiness and expungement, one of the many free services it provides, according to Anthony Lowery, the organization’s director of policy and advocacy, who attended the round table.
“You have to pay for expungements but it’s hard to do without a job,” explained Lowery, an ex-offender himself. “Twenty-five years ago I was convicted for manufacturing a controlled substance. It took me two years to find a job after my conviction.”
Reaching youths at an early age is key to helping them stay on track, said Zopp.
“We have to get these kids before they get to high school because by then it’s hard to turn them around,” she said. “The focus needs to be on making our neighborhood schools better and to give them the resources needed to help their students.”