Lawyer Turns to Art in Effort to Explain Criminal Justice System

A lawyer is using what she learned in that role to create art that helps people better understand the reality of Cook County’s criminal justice system.

Ina Silvergleid aims to use printmaking to improve criminal justice reform.

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“We put people away for murders they didn’t commit,” Silvergleid says. “Cook County is first, we are first in doing that. There is no other county in the U.S. that puts more innocent people away.”

Silvergleid says she’s been practicing art longer than she’s been practicing the law. But it wasn’t until 2016 that she realized she could combine both passions to spark new conversations.

“Now that I do the work that I do, which is mostly addressing criminal justice issues, sometimes I just want to say something and I am hoping that somebody will see it and maybe think twice about whatever they believe they know about the criminal justice system,” Silvergleid says.  

In classes taken at the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, Silvergleid says she found herself utilizing printmaking practices such as lithography and mezzotint to create pieces in response to her current work.

“The school to prison pipeline and the more recent science about how our brains aren’t fully matured until we’re like 25 or 26,” Silvergleid says. “… Or something that was going on in the larger community like when George Floyd was murdered. That prompted a need on my part to make something.”

Lawyer and artist Ina Silvergleid uses printmaking to improve criminal justice reform. (WTTW News)Lawyer and artist Ina Silvergleid uses printmaking to improve criminal justice reform. (WTTW News)

Silvergleid also wants her work to educate, especially people who have never interacted with the criminal justice system.

“Not everyone believes that the criminal justice system is unfair, not everyone wants to believe that if you’re a person of color you’re going to be treated differently,” Silvergleid says. “Some people don’t want to hear that, because they want to think our justice system is perfect and they want to believe police never lie on the stand or state’s attorneys never lie on a case, but based on my experience they both lie. Our system is really imperfect.”

She says people who get caught in the system are not different than anyone else.

“I don’t know if my work, or if I have a particular piece that says that, but it’s this notion that we can’t demonize a third of the population that gets arrested for a crime because a third of our population has an arrest record by the age of 23,” she said. “If you’re African American male it’s 49%. Those are just totally outrageous statistics. So we can’t afford as a nation to demonize.”

More information about Silvergleid’s artwork is available at

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Note: This story will be updated with video.

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.

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