Cook County Action Summit Brings Residents and Local Leaders Together in Dialogue
County officials met with residents of the South Suburbs, Englewood and Garfield Park to discuss criminal justice issues and solutions
(Cook County, IL) — Today, government leaders including Illinois State Supreme Court Justice Scott Neville and Cook County Public Defender, Sharone Mitchell joined in dialogue circles with residents from the South Suburbs, Englewood and Garfield Park as part of the Cook County Action Summit. Cook County State’s Attorney, Kim Foxx attended and spoke at the event. Dialogue was structured in intimate small-group sessions, focused on public safety and criminal justice reform in Cook County.
“This weekend’s Action Summit represents a critical piece of our work as we build safe and thriving communities throughout Cook County,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “My fellow officials and I are committed to reimagining our criminal justice system and investing in our communities that are disproportionately impacted by crime and incarceration. But investments and solutions must directly address the needs and priorities of those communities. That’s why we have to listen - and work in partnership with our neighbors from communities that have been long overlooked.”
The Action Summit, held at Chicago State University, was the culmination of a year of structured community engagement work led by the Cook County Justice Advisory Council (JAC) under the Safety and Justice Challenge. The challenge, a MacArthur Foundation funded initiative, tasks municipalities with reducing rates of jail incarceration and addressing racial disparities in criminal justice. Cook County has been engaged in the Safety and Justice Challenge since 2015.
“We are extremely proud to lead this transformative community engagement work,” said Avik Das, Executive Director of the Justice Advisory Council. “Sustainable change must be human-centered and community driven. Our Community Engagement Coordinator, Kim Ambrose-Davis, and her team of community liaisons act as a bridge connecting valued community voices, to the leaders who need to hear them. We are grateful for the dedication of our team, the commitment of our leaders and for the willingness of community members to share their voice.”
The community engagement strategy used by the Justice Advisory Council leverages the Everyday Democracy Dialogue-to-Change process. This model centers on structured dialogue sessions led by trained facilitators from the community. Over the past year, 264 residents of Cook County participated in dialogue sessions, meeting in small groups for 5 sessions to:
- Explore the root causes and systemic issues contributing to the over-representation of people of color in the criminal justice system
- Develop strategies to reduce the jail population and maintain public safety in our communities
- Allow the community to have their voices heard and to learn from the community through feedback, suggestions, and new ideas
“In dialogue sessions, one of the challenges people wanted to rectify was a lack of resources and a lack of jobs and job training for youth and residents returning from incarceration,” said Aaron Smith, Liaison for South Suburban communities including Harvey and Robins, Illinois. “I initially started as a participant in the dialogue soon after being released from incarceration myself. It allowed me to voice my experiences and concerns and now I can give a platform for others to do so.”
When participants of the dialogue sessions were surveyed, 79% felt their suggestions for improving the justice system will be used to make improvements and 86% felt their suggestions were valued.
The Cook County Action Summit brought local leaders into the Dialogue-to-Change process. They met face-to-face with small groups of residents to discuss some of the most persistent and challenging issues we face as a community including crime and structural racism.
“I’m realizing that I am making a difference,” said Joseph Russell, a resident from the Garfield Park neighborhood who participated in the Action Summit. “I’m a person who committed crimes, but today, I’m on the other side of the coin. I want to thank the liaisons who ran the dialogue sessions. I was able to express myself about what is really going on in the community. And now, it’s about seeing this get to the next level with our youth.”