Last month, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced 80 grants totaling $31.5 million to support organizations across the state that provide legal aid, violence prevention, and re-entry services.
The Restore, Reinvest, and Renew Program (R3) grants were created as part of the 2019 Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (CRTA), which requires that 25% of cannabis revenue be used to support communities impacted by economic disinvestment, gun violence, unemployment, and criminal justice system overuse, according to a press release.
Among the inaugural grant recipients were more than 15 Illinois organizations that provide civil legal aid services, including the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI), Land of Lincoln Legal Aid, Prairie State Legal Services, and Metropolitan Family Legal Services. The funds will be administered in the 2021 calendar year.
How will the funds be used?
R3 grants are a key equity element of cannabis regulation aimed at tackling “chronic problems that have gone unaddressed for far too long in our underserved communities,” said Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton in the press release.
Prairie State Legal Services, which received a total of $1,095,834 through four R3 grants for discrete regions in northern and central Illinois, will use the funds to embed full-time attorneys to provide community-based legal services. In addition, Prairie State will employ local residents as community advocates to empower fellow residents to find legal information that will help them avoid and solve legal problems on their own, according to Mike O’Connor, Executive Director of Prairie State.
Further downstate, Land of Lincoln Legal Aid is working with community organizations like the Springfield Urban League, Danville Restoring our Community, and the NAACPs of Carbondale and Alexander/Pulaski Counties, to place attorneys in neighborhoods to address the critical legal problems that residents face, said Executive Director Clarissa Gaff. Land of Lincoln received three grants totaling $230,044.
PILI will use its $29,805 R3 grant to fund the launch of two new judicial circuit pro bono committees in Illinois’ First and Second Judicial Circuits. PILI currently has eight such committees throughout the state, which are made up of local lawyers, judges, and advocates who create programs to fill gaps in civil legal aid. PILI is also recruiting a Managing Attorney to help develop these committees.
“We look forward to working with the R3 communities in our grant territory to expand and enhance civil pro bono legal services to reverse the devastating impact of overcriminalization,” said PILI Executive Director Michael Bergmann in a press release.
Why are R3 grants important?
R3 grants are targeted at communities that have experienced over-incarceration, violence, and high rates of child poverty, Gaff said, leaving residents with little trust in the legal system to treat them equitably and fairly.
For many, “past experiences with and perceptions of criminal justice are generalized to encompass all issues regarding the law and as a result, they see no difference between civil and criminal law,” O’Connor said. This may lead residents to avoid seeking legal help or doing so in a timely manner.
Moreover, according to Gaff, for those who do seek legal help, there aren’t enough legal aid attorneys to address all of the legal problems communities face. This lack of adequate resources causes most low-income litigants to represent themselves in the legal system.
Stratton hopes that by reinventing the grant process through community inclusion, Illinois will promote a “standard for equity and success that other states will hopefully take note of and emulate.”
Gaff echoes this sentiment. “We hope that by being present in the community, working with established community partners, and working with residents to resolve their civil legal problems, we can begin to help our communities rebuild and help to establish trust in the legal system.”
For more information on R3 grants, visit www.icjia.state.il.us.
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