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Criminal Legal System

BPI envisions Illinois as a state where fewer people have contacts with the criminal legal system, and if an interaction occurs, those involved encounter a just, accountable system that treats all people impacted by it equitably, with respect for their human rights and dignity. To achieve this vision, BPI’s Reimagining the Criminal Legal System team advocates for policies and practices that create and protect alternatives, promote justice and accountability, and seek equitable outcomes for those impacted by the criminal legal system in Illinois.

Our work focuses on advancing “no entry” into the criminal legal system, decarcerating jails and prisons, and transforming incarceration. We develop research, legal approaches, and policy analysis that amplifies the perspectives and experiences of impacted individuals and communities and work strategically to build consensus and coalitions that center and support the power of affected communities to advance campaigns.

Over the years, BPI has focused on juvenile justice, community supervision, and reentry. BPI helped create a detailed operating plan for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, worked to expand community supervision through Adult Redeploy Illinois, and advocated for increased access to reentry housing and reentry supports.

We advocate for increased affordable housing options that center the needs of those rebuilding their lives after incarceration. BPI has released two recent reports (accessible below) with policy solutions to overcome systemic barriers and expand access to reentry housing.

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Limiting Criminal Legal System Contacts

Police are tasked to respond to a wide range of social problems, from behavioral crises to homelessness, some of which they are ill-equipped to address. Too often, encounters with police escalate and result in police violence against community members, particularly in predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhoods. BPI seeks to decrease the size of the criminal legal system by working to identify policies and practices that limit adult contact with law enforcement. In doing so, we aim to promote “no entry” into the criminal legal system. We collaborate to help develop alternative models of community-based responses to public safety harms, and we push for policy at the local and state levels.

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Transforming Incarceration

Over the last five decades, Illinois has relied on policies that have led to a crisis of mass incarceration, which disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx people in our state. These policies have resulted in devastating costs for our communities. The jails and prison system further perpetuate harms rather than provide the support and resources necessary to enable a person to successfully return to their community once the period of confinement (or other system involvement) ends. BPI works to advance the movement to end mass incarceration and change how we treat people who remain incarcerated. Our areas of focus include: increasing the use of early release mechanisms, such as parole, promoting alternatives to incarceration, expanding access to higher education in prison, and developing strategies to increase transparency and accountability in jails and prisons.

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JUSTICE 20/20: The Demand for Equity

JUSTICE 20/20: The Demand for Equity is a multi-year effort to bring together the diverse perspectives of individuals, organizations, and communities seeking to address the inequities of the criminal legal system. Members will work collaboratively to ensure the successful development and implementation of systemic changes on a range of issues, including: Supporting Safe & Thriving Communities; Policing; Pretrial and the Courts; Incarceration; and Post-Release and Re-Entry. BPI partners with Cabrini Green Legal Aid and the Illinois Justice Project to convene meetings and facilitate ongoing discussions. We provide legal, policy, and technical advice to assist with strategic planning, project coordination, and implementation of this initiative.

Reports & Publications

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