Report: Kim Foxx reforms show reducing incarceration does not compromise public safety

Criminal justice reform advocates say the Cook County state’s attorney is living up to her promises.

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File photo by Stacey Rupolo

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx was elected in 2016 on a criminal justice reform platform.

Two potential candidates against Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx have emerged in recent days — a former judge and prosecutor and a former county board member — both of which plan to go after Foxx’s criminal justice reform agenda.

But a new report by reform advocates defends Foxx’s record, finding that she has made progress in reducing unnecessary incarceration and that violent crime rates have gone down at the same time.

The number of people sentenced to incarcerations declined 19% last year — dropping from 12,262 in 2017 to 9,941 in 2018 — while FBI statistics showed reports of violent crimes in Chicago dropped by 8%, according to the report from the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, Reclaim Chicago and the People’s Lobby.

The data reinforce “the case made by criminal justice reform advocates that incarceration is not the best strategy to improve public safety,” according to the report. 

“In fact, the root causes of many crimes, including poverty and lack of mental health services or substance use treatment, go unaddressed or are made worse through prison sentences. Incarceration disrupts what little security and stability people have, hurting entire communities by separating parents from children, workers from employment and caregivers from the people who need them most.”

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According to the report, a major factor in the decline in incarceration rates was Foxx’s decision shortly after taking office in December 2016 to raise the bar for felony retail theft charges from $300 to $1,000. Nearly 4,500 fewer felony retail theft charges were filed in Foxx’s first two years in office, compared to the previous two years.

The report uses information from a new data portal on felony charges released by Foxx’s office earlier this year.

Foxx also increased by 25% the number of people referred to diversion programs, where felony convictions are waived if individuals provide restitution or complete substance abuse treatment programs. In addition, she improved prosecutor training and gave front-line prosecutors greater discretion to negotiate plea deals and drop charges when “prosecution isn’t the best way to promote community health and safety,” according to the report.

It’s the third report by the three groups monitoring Foxx’s progress. Their report earlier this year recommended that felony drug cases could be reduced if prosecutors reviewed charges rather than allowing police officers to file them without review, as is now the case.

Overall, the new report shows that Foxx “is living up to her promises,” said Kristi Sanford of Reclaim Chicago. The state’s attorney’s office “is looking at what makes the community safer, instead of just throwing people in jail,” she said.

“If people have accepted responsibility for retail theft or drug possession, jailing them is not necessarily the best choice,” since it “makes it much harder for those individuals to stabilize their lives,” Sanford said.