Decarcerate Illinois

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First steps taken in state’s criminal justice overhaul

Mar 9, 2016 | by admin

Gov. Bruce Rauner joined with lawmakers on March 2 to introduce three bills meant to begin reforms to the state’s criminal-justice system.

All three proposals come from the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform’s first report. Reforms include:

Senate Bill 3368 – Issue state ID cards to ex-offenders upon release from prison: IDs are required for obtaining legal employment, housing and other basic needs in Illinois, but many offenders don’t have them – which makes re-entry even more difficult. This bill directs the Illinois Department of Corrections, or IDOC, and the secretary of state to provide ID cards to ex-offenders upon release from prison.

Senate Bill 3164 – Discourage prison for low-level offenders: For low-risk offenders, incarceration often isn’t a cost-effective use of public resources. This bill would require judges to review a presentencing report, and explain at sentencing why incarceration, rather than an alternative such as probation, is appropriate when a low-level offender hasn’t been on probation previously and has no history of violent crime.

Senate Bill 3294 – Expand use of electronic monitoring: Right now, over 10,000 inmates are sent to IDOC for stays of less than a year. This process often wastes resources because short prison stays do not last long enough for offenders to benefit from drug treatment and other rehabilitative programs. Moreover, when low-risk inmates and high-risk inmates are housed together, low-risk inmates are more likely to recidivate. This bill would allow IDOC to set conditions of parole and mandatory supervised release, including using home detention and electronic monitoring options for some offenders.

These are all good first steps, but much more will be needed to repair Illinois’ broken criminal-justice system. To reap the benefits of lower corrections costs, the state will also need to overhaul sentencing and focus ontreatment instead of incarceration – both to improve public safety and to save limited criminal-justice resources.