Cook County State's Attorney's offices in Chicago. | Cook County State's Attorney

Since she first ran for Cook County State’s Attorney in 2016, Kim Foxx has been promising not to rely on prison sentences and other punishments alone to reduce crime, and that a more multi-pronged, restorative approach would be more effective. 

The Strategies for Reducing Violence in our Communities webinar held on Dec. 10 laid out Foxx’s office has been working with other law enforcement agencies and community organizations to accomplish that. 

County prosecutors have been working with police officers on the West and South sides to get a better sense of which people or groups might be causing the violence. Her office has also teamed up with nonprofits to help the victims of gun violence – even if they were shooters in the past – to deal with their trauma, state’s attorney officials explained. 

The webinar also delved into the office’s work with community development organizations and violence interruption organizations, such such as the Austin-based Institute for Nonviolence Chicago.  

Assistant State’s Attorney Ethan Holland explained that, since 2016, the office’s Gun Crimes Strategies Unit has been focused on six Chicago Police districts that saw a spike in gun violence this year. That included three West Side districts: the 10th District, which includes North Lawndale; the 11th District, which includes West Garfield Park, West Humboldt Park and portions of East Garfield; and the 15th District, which is located entirely in the portion of Austin south of Division Street. 

Foxx’s office, Holland explained, focused on “violence drivers,” or individuals who are more likely to either shoot or be shot. Working with officers within the six target districts, as well as federal law enforcement agencies, they “try to develop an understanding of those individuals, their groups, gangs, [and] understand established and evolving conflicts.” 

Because many of those individuals post incriminating photos on their social media accounts, they often don’t have to dig very deep to find that information, Holland said. 

“My father used to have a saying that no one can hurt you like you can hurt yourself,” he said. “And, looking at those postings, I can understand why.”

At the same time, they want to make sure that individuals that do end up serving prison time have support once they get out. Under the Returning Citizen Initiative program, the county starts working with them while they’re still incarcerated.  

Chris Patterson, the director of programs at the Institute for Nonviolence, said that his organization approached the problem from a different angle. 

Like many people in the organization staff, he used to be one of the “violence drivers” Holland described. Members of Holland’s organization bring their experiences to provide support to individuals they’r helping, as well as to teach conflict resolution skills. And Patterson said that the institute has been lobbying for justice reform to give people who who are caught in the cycle of violence “an exit ramp.”

He said that he was hopeful that under Mayor Lori Lightfoot the city can make more systemic changes

“People are resilient and [capable of] change, but that change needs to be  supported with mentorship and the systems around it,” Patterson said. 

Jennifer Duran, the trauma intervention specialist at Healing Hurt People Chicago, agreed. 

“We have to understand the complexities of trauma, the structural violence relational to racial and social disparities,” she said. “We have disinvestment in the community, poverty, we have the lack of comfortable housing, segregation, and we have huge disparities in education that have been amplified by COVID, as well as generational trauma.”

Her organization works with gunshot victims who are treated at Stroger Hospital, 1969 W. Ogden Ave., and University of Chicago Emergency Department and Trauma Center, 5656 S. Maryland Ave., helping them cope with trauma and linking them to resources they might need. 

Fellow Crisis Intervention Specialist Kyle Brand Padilla emphasized that they work with perpetrators who get shot. When asked how well the approach has worked, Holland said that it was too early to tell, but he felt that the program is worth continuing.

“We can’t just arrest our ways out of this problem – we need to take a more holistic approach,” he said.