Hometown: Chicago, IL
Education: B.A. in Psychology, Northwestern University
J.D., Northwestern University School of Law
Known around the office as: The one who left retirement to do this job
Recognizable by: His fierce love for family and everything Chicago, including his alma mater, Northwestern University
Jeff Howard serves as the legal director for the Campaign of the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY). Jeff shapes and implements litigation strategy and works with coalition partners and firms working on juvenile cases. He also serves as a resource for the legal community on life without parole for children and related issues.
After moving several times growing up, Jeff landed in Chicago for his undergraduate studies and fell in love with the city’s beauty, diversity, neighborhoods and food. He very much relates to Midwesterners.
“They’re hearty. They live off the land. They make it work. And they’re just good souls.”
It didn’t take Jeff long to discover his interest in criminal law. Three years after law school, he joined the Office of the Cook County Public Defender; he worked there for 30 years. Jeff engaged in extensive defense work handling murder cases at the trial and appellate levels on behalf of the indigent accused. He also represented the office on the Illinois Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Children and the Illinois Capital Punishment Reform Study Committee
Jeff sees public defense as the living embodiment of the sixth amendment, which guarantees, among other things, the right to legal representation when charged with a felony. He loved the opportunity to fight for people who could not afford good lawyers, no matter what their story. “It doesn’t matter what somebody did. Everyone has a story. Everyone is a human being, despite what the press might say. By being a public defender, everyone is guaranteed legal representation during this terrible time in their life.”
As director of the juvenile justice and child abuse and neglect divisions, he began to realize the extent to which children could grow and change. Jeff also played a role in the successful effort to abolish capital punishment in Illinois. As a result of this work, he thinks of juvenile life-without-parole sentences as a form of the death penalty. “No child should die in prison,” he said.
A staunch Chicago sports fan, Jeff bleeds Northwestern purple and roots for “every local team but the White Sox.” He is the proud owner of two rescued standard poodles, and enjoys cooking, playing tennis, and finding and enjoying good red wine.