Women in Government

Toni Preckwinkle 2017 HONOREE

Board President, Cook County, Illinois

Before Toni Preckwinkle became board president in 2010, and before she sat on the Chicago City Council for 19 years, she was a high school history teacher. Lately, she’s spent a lot of time trying to change the criminal justice system to be less punitive for teenagers like the ones she taught three decades ago. “In this country, we criminalize what I call ‘petty antisocial behavior,’ particularly of black and brown kids,” she says. “I’ve seen what happens to people who get enmeshed in the criminal justice system. It messes up people’s lives.” 

In 2015, Preckwinkle lobbied state lawmakers to raise the age at which a teenager is tried as an adult, resulting in a 73 percent reduction in automatic transfers to adult correctional facilities. She was also a vocal advocate for another recent statewide policy change: eliminating the mandatory five-year probation period for juvenile offenders, which means fewer young people will be sent back to prison for small relapses. She has had to focus much of her attention on closing $1.2 billion in budget deficits. “We’re trying to make county government more effective and responsive,” she says, “and we’re trying to do that while we’re reducing staff.”

Read about the Women in Government program and the rest of the honorees.