Junaid "J" Afeef: Candidate profile
Office sought: Kane County State's Attorney
Family: Married with 4 children
Education: Undergrad: University of Iowa (Go Hawks!)
Law School: The American University's Washington College of Law
Civic Involvement: Rocket Wrestling Club (youth wrestling program; volunteer coach; board member); Elgin Community College's Multicultural and Global Initiatives Committee; interfaith speaker
Previous elected offices: None.
Questions and Answers
1. Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what?
Decades of mass incarceration have had a deleterious effect upon our communities -- especially our poor and minority communities. Prosecuting low-level, nonviolent offenses -- particularly for those who are suffering from addiction and or mental illnesses -- has done a lot of harm to poor people and communities of color. At the same time the public safety improvements of failed policies are either temporary or illusory.
Violent crime prevention and prosecution, and supporting the victims of crime are neglected responsibilities when we waste tax dollars on caging individuals for crimes that do not put others' safety at risk.
The criminal justice system is the wrong system for addressing medical and mental health issues. Incarceration should be limited to situations where the safety of the public is at stake.
Additionally, the responsibility to seek justice does not end when a sentence is imposed. Except in the most heinous cases, people have the capacity to grow and change, and in those instances the State's Attorney has an obligation to advocate for re-entry into society of those who no longer represents a risk.
Progressive prosecution is the smart and compassionate solution to build safe communities that are also healthy communities.
2. If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. Tell us of any important initiatives you've led. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?
For 25 years I have dedicated my legal career to helping and giving a voice to the voiceless. As a public defender I saw firsthand the harm the "convict and incarcerate everyone" mindset has on our communities.
I led the Illinois Targeted Violence Prevention Program that studied and created strategies to stop mass casualty shootings and acts of domestic terrorism working alongside the FBI, Homeland Security, National Counterterrorism Center, local law enforcement, mental health professionals, and criminal justice researchers.
I have advised state programs, boards and agencies as legal counsel, including the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, on open, ethical and transparent governance. In addition to many years of criminal and civil trial experience, I spent over a decade working on criminal justice reform. I am the only candidate that has managed a budget, written and applied for state and federal grants and managed the day-to-day operations of a major organization.
I am bringing a new mission that promotes public safety through a focus on violent crime prevention and prosecution, the smart reduction in the prosecution of minor drug offenses and other minor nonviolent offenses, and prioritization of diversion programs to promote rehabilitation and reintegration.
3. What crime should be the office's top target. Drugs? Gang violence? Child sex abuse? Something else? Why? What steps will you take to address the priorities as you see them?
My priority will be crimes with victims. Survivors of crime and their families suffer trauma and harm that permanently impacts their lives. Helping survivors of crime to escape the cycle of victimization will always be my priority regardless of their willingness to participate in the prosecution of the case. Survivors of crime are entitled to transparency, to understand the criminal justice process, to understand the options available to them, and to have input into the type of sentence that will help with their personal healing and recovery.
All cases involving a victim of a sex crime will be assigned one prosecutor and one victim advocate from the very beginning, thereby limiting the times the victim is required to retell her or his story and which allows trust to build over time.
I will make violent crime prevention a priority by engaging regularly with communities most impacted by violent crimes and making the State's Attorney's office accountable to the people. This, among other government accountability measures, will help to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve.
4. Describe your position regarding the allocation of resources in the state's attorney's office. Are personnel allocated as they should be? Are there capital expense or other budgetary items that the office must address, and, if so, how do you propose to address them?
Budgetary concerns are not an issue with the State's Attorney's office as evidenced by it running under budget for 8 years in a row. The issue is how these resources are being allocated. In 2018, there were 1,766 criminal arrests in Kane County (not including drug and domestic violence arrests). Of the 1,766 arrests 1,248 were for theft. There were another 1,285 people arrested for drug offenses. Most of these offenses could be diverted out of the system without the need for an arrest and the collateral consequences that follow. As a consequence, violent crime is not allocated adequate resources. For example, in 2018, 178 sexual assault offenses were reported but only 17 arrests were made.
Prosecuting these low-level, nonviolent offenses is unnecessarily draining, not just the budget of the State's Attorney but also the budget of the judiciary and the sheriff. Instead of spending the resources to prosecute these offenses, the resources are better spent preventing and prosecuting violent crimes.
5. Name one concrete program you'll create or personnel move you'll make to improve efficiency in the office or make it more successful. Explain how it will be funded and how you will overcome any obstacles to initiating it.
Data shows that young people's brains continue to develop until their early- to mid-20s and differ from adult brains in meaningful ways. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has acknowledged these differences. I would create a Juvenile Alternative Resolution program (JAR) that empowers communities, schools and family members to provide individualized services to young people as an alternative to traditional prosecution.
Under this system, all prosecutors would evaluate juveniles using, among other things, a validated risk assessment tool like the Ohio Youth Assessment System-Diversion to help determine whether informal diversion or formal diversion through JAR is appropriate. Only the most serious juvenile offenses would be ineligible for any diversion program.
Tailored programs for each JAR-eligible family is then developed to mitigate the identified risk factors that led to the anti-social behaviors to begin with. By mitigating these risk factors the juvenile's risk of making more bad choices is reduced.
This program can be funded by resources that are already being used to prosecute juveniles along with funds through the Juvenile Justice Council. Additionally, the creation of partnerships and alliances with community-based agencies and other nonprofits, social service providers who would carry out the individualized program.