Funds to be Used to Bring More Pro Bono Legal Services to Southern Illinois
The Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) is pleased to announce that we have been chosen as one of 80 inaugural grant recipients for Illinois’ Restore, Reinvest, Renew (R3) Program. Through this grant of $29,805, PILI will bring more pro bono legal services to low-income people in Southern Illinois.
“PILI is honored and thrilled to be one of the inaugural grantees of the R3 Program,” said PILI Executive Director Michael Bergmann. “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.”
View the official press release Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority »
The R3 Program was created as a key equity element of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act. The law requires that 25 percent of all cannabis revenue be used to support communities impacted by economic disinvestment, violence, and the severe and disproportionate damage caused by the war on drugs, which largely and disproportionately impacted low-income Illinoisans and communities of color. Awardees include nonprofit organizations, local units of government, tax-exempt faith-based organizations, businesses, and other community organizations that serve residents of—or are based in—designated eligible R3 zones. R3 funding is being equitably distributed within these communities to ensure needed services are provided to those who have been most harmed by criminal justice system overuse, including addressing unmet civil legal needs in these communities.
Civil legal issues often go hand-in-hand with poverty, serving as both a symptom and a cause. This has never been more apparent than over the last year increase in unemployment caused by the pandemic. For example, thousands are now at risk of eviction after losing their job. One woman who is eight months pregnant and recently lost her job due to COVID reached out through PILI’s Illinois Free Legal Answers website when her landlord threatened to evict her. “I will be homeless with a newborn if I get evicted,” she said. An attorney was able to explain the current eviction moratorium to her as well as her rights as a renter to ensure that did not happen.
Similar conversations are happening with pro bono lawyers around the state about other civil legal aid issues such as child support, sealing criminal records and debt collection. PILI wants to make sure more people in low-income communities in Southern Illinois have access to free legal aid. PILI’s R3 grant specifically funds the launch of two new judicial circuit pro bono committees in the First and Second Judicial Circuits (see map).
PILI currently has eight such committees throughout the state, which are made up of local lawyers, judges and advocates who work to identify gaps in civil legal aid and created projects to help fill those gaps. Such projects include courthouse help desks, criminal record expungement summits, single-day legal aid clinics and pro bono trainings. Overall, communities with a PILI Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee see an increase in pro bono legal services. More people receive free legal help and avoid the disastrous consequences of unmet legal needs.
Thanks to the R3 grant and other funding, PILI is now hiring an additional Managing Attorney to join its Programs Team of Senior Managing Attorney Brent Page and Managing Attorney Jessica Schneider to help develop these new pro bono committees. These committees will then work with PILI to increase pro bono legal services in their area.
For more information about this and other PILI projects, please reach out to Michael Bergmann by email or at 312-832-5129.