Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Monday told a crowd of more than a 1,000 community residents and religious and community leaders that she would work to significantly reduce the size of the Cook County Jail population by the end of the year.

Preckwinkle said the jail population could be reduced from a daily average of 9,000 detainees to 7,500 by ending practices that keep the numbers unnecessarily high such as requiring cash bonds, incarcerating people awaiting trial for non-violent crimes and automatically transferring juvenile offenders to adult courts.

“This is a system that disproportionately impacts black and brown people,” she said.

Preckwinkle was responding to a question from the Reclaim Campaign, a coalition of community and faith groups that advocates for community-based restorative justice, mental health and substance abuse alternatives to incarceration. The group had asked if the board president would partner with them to reduce the jail population. It was one of several questions posed to political leaders, including three Chicago mayoral candidates, who were asked to state their positions on issues ranging from violence, income inequality, unemployment and police misconduct.

The forum at Liberty Baptist Church on the South Side was organized by the Community Renewal Society, a not-for-profit, faith-based organization that publishes The Reporter. It was held as part of the society’s Martin Luther King Jr. Faith in Action Assembly, in partnership with Southsiders Together Organizing for Power, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Raise Your Hand and Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.

The mayoral candidates were asked to give a simple yes or no to certain proposals. All of them replied affirmatively to a platform for police reform, which called for:

  • The replacement of the Independent Police Review Authority with a civilian oversight board.
  • A requirement that all police wear body cameras.
  • An end to all “stop and frisk” policies and greater police transparency around contact cards and investigatory stops.
  • The decriminalization of marijuana possession and possession of small amounts of certain other drugs now illegal.

Mayoral candidate and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia touted his record “in the trenches” of community organizing, recounted his work with the late Mayor Harold Washington’s administration and reiterated his commitment to working as part of a multi-ethnic coalition.

“I’m here because I care about police accountability, about justice, and I quickly want to put the era of Jon Burge behind us,” Garcia said, referring to the former Chicago police commander convicted in 2010 of lying about torturing suspects for two decades, coercing dozens of confessions.

Second Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti, who also is waging a mayoral campaign, stressed his background as a civil rights attorney who has pushed a progressive City Hall agenda. He called for a $15 hourly minimum wage and took a swing at Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who did not attend.

“Our city is headed in the wrong direction,” Fioretti said. “My vision for Chicago is safe streets and safe neighborhoods.”

Community activist William “Dock” Walls also touted his work with the Washington administration as well as his roots as a native Chicagoan.

“We’re living in two Chicagos,” Walls said. “There’s world class Chicago and there’s underclass Chicago.”

Adeshina is a former reporter for The Chicago Reporter. Follow him on Twitter @ Public_Ade.

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