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Pritzker unveils justice reform initiative

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton shows off the document creating the Justice, Equity and Opportunity Initiative. | Stefano Esposito / Sun-Times

Saying Illinois’ justice system is broken, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order Monday that he hopes is a first step toward “restorative justice” statewide.

The Justice, Equity and Opportunity Initiative is expected to be a broad-ranging effort that looks at criminal sentencing, education, poverty and the link among the three, officials said

“It’s time to modernize sentencing, especially for low-level drug offenses,” Pritzker said. “It’s time to reduce the recidivism rate and re-entry through a holistic approach that addresses opportunity both inside and outside of our prisons.”

Various community groups and state agencies are expected to do research, start pilot programs and advocate for legislation, Pritzker said.

“The launch of this initiative is just the beginning,” Pritzker said, standing with Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, who will lead the initiative. “The work ahead is both vast and urgent.”

Monday’s announcement was short on specifics. Stratton said the effort would involve the filling of three positions, including a director, but all would be paid for with existing resources.

A part of the initiative is expected to focus on the legalization of marijuana.

“As we work on legalizing the adult use of cannabis, we will examine how to repair the harm that the war on drugs has had on so many communities of color,” Stratton said.

Stratton said she had not spoken to House Speaker Mike Madigan about the issue, but would do so “if the need arises.”

Pritzker added: “As there are any legislative solutions that come out of the committee . . . we’ll be active and, of course, we’re going to speak with the leaders of both houses.”