Illinois Justice Commission soon to announce final plans on decreasing prison population

imageBruce Rauner’s Criminal Justice Reform Commission is set to release their final recommendations on how to safely reduce the Illinois prison population by 25% by the year 2025. The┬áCommission was formed on an Executive Order by Rauner on February 11, 2015 with the stated goal of “developing comprehensive, evidence-based strategies to meet the goal of reducing Illinois’ prison population 25 percent by 2025,” according to the Commission’s website. The group is comprised of more than two dozen criminal justice practitioners, lawmakers, and policymakers.

Research by the sentencing advising board policy and Loyola University revealed two factors that increase prison population: Admissions and increased length of stay. The Website adds “Admissions can be reduced with prison diversion initiatives and a change in parole policy to decrease the number of offenders returning to prison due to technical violations. A reduction in recidivism also could be achieved with evidence based programming in diversions, in prison, during reentry, and in the community.” The Commission talks about preventing low risk offenders from entering the prison population, which seems a humane idea to at least partly reduce prison population. Another good thing is that the Commission seems to be accepting the idea of treatment programs rather than punitive punishments. The Adult Redeploy Illinois Program allows Judges and prosecutors to divert individuals who are being sentenced to use more probation based punishments. The Commission has determined that Recidivism(defined here as a return to prison within three years of release) has been around 50% the last decade. This illustrates the unfortunate cycle many offenders are put through that prevents them from really ever regaining any semblance of their lives. Even shorter Prison terms can turn their existence into a struggle for survival. The persons economic situation and race undoubtedly and unfortunately complicates their situation as well.

When evaluating the Sheridan and Southwest Illinois Correctional Center drug programs evidence showed these programs do tend to reduce recidivism. One of the problems unfortunately is that the need for the program among drug offenders greatly succeeds the programs availability. There will need to be greater funding for these programs and maybe a reduction in the funding that contributes more to punishment or preventing crime. Because it’s becoming clear that crime programs meant to clean the streets of criminals have not worked and have overcrowded the prison population and made humane treatment of offenders much harder.

The other part of the problem mentioned before that the Commission was looking was how the length of stay affected the prison population. Finding a way to reduce length of sentences should contribute to at least partly reducing the prison population. The Commission lists four ways that the length of sentences may possibly be impacted,

  • Changing the sentence length ranges for felony classes.
  • Awarding credits for good conduct, treatment participation, etc.
  • Reducing required percentages of imprisonment in sentences handed down under Truth-in-Sentencing laws.
  • Using risk and needs assessment to guide sentencing and lengths of stay.

These measures could be ways that reduce the prison population and make it easier for offenders to deal with lives in and out of prison. I think the Commission is a good step forward in prison reform and there seems to be some genuine desire to see things change, which is nice. I would like to see more research on how prisoners are treated by guards, and maybe look at whether poor treatment of prisoners leads to a higher likelihood of recidivism. Either way, I do believe there needs to be more reform in how prisoners are looked at.

-Jake Morask

(Opinions are mine and do not represent official views of LauraLaw)

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