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Leadership Council

To create a more humane legal system by building partnerships that raise the voices of those directly impacted, collectively inform the public, and develop solutions for broad-based systemic reform.

Our History

The Leadership Council was founded in October 2014 by Beth Johnson, former Director of Programs at CGLA. After spending legislative sessions in Springfield lobbying alone and speaking on behalf of clients who are impacted by the criminal legal system, Beth came to see the importance of having those who are directly impacted by the criminal legal system advocate for changing the system. This is when she invited Deborah Harrington, a longtime Chicago activist with broad experience in the public sector, to help create a framework for the group that would become the Leadership Council.

Deborah came to CGLA determined to create a rich experience for Leaders. She strengthened the organization’s understanding of race and racism, and helped CGLA support former clients' leadership skill development. Around this time, Colette Payne joined CGLA’s staff and used her passion and talent for Community Organizing to help the table grow and better support its membership. Under their leadership, CGLA assembled a diverse group of people with past convictions to build power and use empathy and compassion to develop effective solutions to the ongoing challenges that system impacted people face in Illinois.

Members of the Leadership Council were instrumental in forming the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI) which brought together impacted leaders at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Community Renewal Society, and Heartland Alliance to a leader-driven group dedicated to addressing the permanent punishments imposed on individuals with arrests and convictions. With RROCI and on their own, the Leadership Council spent many meetings sitting around the table brainstorming solutions to issues that consistently impacted people with arrests and convictions. The Leadership Council began its advocacy efforts by successfully lobbying to remove lifetime barriers to employment in healthcare, schools, and park districts. In 2017, the Leadership Council went on to pass HB2373, a bill that drastically expanded eligibility for petitioning to have one’s record relieved. Thanks to HB2373, there are now only four types of offenses that cannot be sealed or expunged from one’s record. In all, members of the Leadership Council representing CGLA and RROCI contributed to the passage of 13 bills between 2015 and 2022. These bills have made it easier to expunge and seal records, access housing, find good paying jobs, and helped families to stay connected during periods of incarceration. The impact and passion of their work cannot be overstated.

Throughout the Council’s existence, they have also worked to educate the public and break down the barriers that the criminal legal system creates for communities. They have done so by providing Know Your Rights presentations about rights in housing, employment, education, voting, record clearance, and more vital topics. Leaders help people make sense of their history with the criminal legal system, and understand their options and opportunities for the future.

Ultimately, the Leadership Council is focused on developing knowledge and skills for those most impacted by the systemic barriers of the criminal legal system. The Leadership Council knows that social justice movements are successful when communities are led by the very people impacted by the change that is sought. CGLA is proud to work with and support this dedicated group of people and excited to continue to drive change in Illinois with them.

Leadership Council Today

Today, in addition to writing, lobbying for, and implementing policy, the Leadership Council also provides Know Your Rights presentations where they use the power of public education to break down the barriers to knowing your rights, making sense of your history with the legal system, and understanding your options.

The Leadership Council’s theory of change states that social justice movements are successful when communities are moving toward a common goal and that movements must be led by the people impacted by social change.


The Leadership Council meets twice monthly to discuss reform, workshop issues, and develop solutions. If you are impacted by the criminal legal system and interested in participating or learning more about this social justice movement.  Click the button below.

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