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For Immediate Release – Monday, December 8, 2014
Activist to Put Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez on Trial
for Racist Prosecution Practices, Squandering Public Resources
Wednesday, December 10 at 3:00 pm, activists fighting the mass incarceration of people of color in the Cook County Jail System will march from the corner of 24th Street and California to grassy median across from the courthouse of the Cook County Jail at 2600 S. California Ave where clergy will lead a brief prayer vigil for incarcerated Chicagoans and where activists will conduct a street theater trial of Anita Alvarez, charging her with racist prosecution practices and squandering public resources. Visuals include clergy wearing vestments praying in front of the Cook County Jail and mock courtroom complete with judge, jury, witnesses and an effigy of Anita Alvarez.
Activists charge that Anita Alvarez has failed to make effective use of the Cook County Deferred Prosecution Program and other diversionary programs she launched in 2011 to give non-violent, first time offenders the opportunity to make amends, avoid the stigma of a felony conviction and avoid costly incarceration. Alvarez’s failure to make effective use of this program has assisted in growing the mass incarceration of people of color for non-violent felony crimes, at a great cost to Chicago’s African American and Latino communities and to taxpayers who must foot the bill for high incarceration rates. Citing high incarceration rates of people of color accused of nonviolent crimes, activist are concerned that the Deferred Prosecution Program impact is limited given the numbers of first time non-violent offender locked away in Cook Cook Jail.
Leaders of Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL), IIRON and Organizing Catholics for Justice filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking Alvarez to release records about the numbers of non-violent offenders who have completed the deferred prosecution program, including the race and gender of participants. Alvarez’s office declined to share any information about the race or gender of those allowed to enroll or those who completed the program.
Once a person is saddled with a felony conviction, it is almost impossible to get a job, making long-term poverty a likely consequence. Persistent poverty and economic inequality overwhelmingly affect people of color. Faith and community leaders and activists maintain that Anita Alvarez can play an important role of ending mass incarceration, but that she continues to ignore the role racism has played in the growing mass incarceration of black and brown people.
“We have repeatedly asked State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to meet with us to evaluate the effectiveness of the Deferred Prosecution Program and to explore other reforms, including changes to the bail/bond system, that would greatly reduce the rates of incarceration for African Americans and Latinos accused of nonviolent offenses, but she’s done nothing but stonewall,” said Ruby Pinto, of SOUL and Bridgeport Alliance. “That’s why we’re putting her on trial today.”
Some relevant statistics about who is incarcerated and why:
*Chicago’s population is roughly ⅓ African American, ⅓ Latino and ⅓ Caucasion. Cook County’s prison population is 67% African American, 20% Latino and 13% Caucasian.
*Seventy percent of incarcerated people in the US have non-violent convictions.
*On any given day, fully 1/3 of the jail population has a diagnosable mental illness. “While some mentally ill individuals are charged with violent offenses, the majority are charged with crimes seemingly committed to survive, including retail theft, trespassing, prostitution and drug possession,” said Sheriff Tom Dart, in an interview with ThinkProgess in March of 2014.
According to the Sheriff Dart, It costs taxpayers a minimum of $143 per day – $52,000 per year – to incarcerate each person in the Cook County Jail.
Community leaders and activists have also pushed State’s Attorney Alvarez to enact sweeping reforms to the bail/bond system, which guarantees that overwhelmingly disproportionate numbers of poor people of color are incarcerated in Cook County.
Organizing Catholics for Justice is program run by the Office for Peace and Justice of the Archdiocese of Chicago dedicated to building leaders to take action in the Chicagoland area for policy changes that reflect the dignity of life grounded in Catholic Social Teaching. SOUL is a social justice organization on the South Side and South Suburbs dedicated racial and economic justice. IIRON trains people to understand, build, and exercise power through collective action so that powerful decision-makers act in ways that serve our interests, not just the interests of the wealthy and big corporations.