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Illinois Prison Population on Decline

Dec 26, 2017 10:17 AM

Greg Bishop - Illinois News Network

While there were some major criminal justice reform measures passed and signed into law for the new year, an independent corrections monitor says much more needs to be done to lower the state’s prison population.


Gov. Bruce Rauner set a goal when he took office in 2015 to decrease the state’s prison population by 25 percent by 2025. Some movement has been made in that direction, but criminal justice reform advocates say there’s a lot of work to do.


John Howard Association Executive Director Jennifer Vollen-Katz said a couple of measures allowing former offenders to get professional licenses is a good start.


“We all know that getting a job is one of the biggest indicators on getting somebody to succeed upon release from prison,” Vollen-Katz said.


But she said the number that’s impacting is small and lawmakers are merely nibbling around the edges with other reforms. And there are instances Vollen-Katz says the state is going in the other direction.


“There was the bill that passed that increased enhancement for people who are convicted of a weapons offense for the second time,” she said. “That was a step in the wrong direction in terms of changing our sentencing structure.”


To address the state’s sentencing structure, Vollen-Katz said “give judges discretion in deciding sentences so that we can consider all the factors in making sure that the people that need to be put away longer are, and the people that don't, and there are many more of them, are not.”


Meaningful criminal justice reform is hot political potatoes, so many lawmakers are apprehensive to address it, she said.


Vollen-Katz also said much more needs to be done to address the conditions inside Illinois prisons for those suffering from mental illness.


“The circumstances they live under are inhumane and unacceptable,” she said.


Here are some of the laws impacting crime and punishment that are set to take effect Jan. 1:


Mental Fitness Report to the Courts (SB 1276/PA 100-0424): Reports about individuals adjudicated not guilty by reason of insanity will be made every 90 days to reduce administrative burden and focus resources in other areas.


Inmate Training Dogs for PTSD Veterans (HB 2897/PA 100-0384): Illinois Department of Corrections inmates can be taught to help train service dogs to help veterans with post traumatic stress disorder.


CJIA Inventory (HB 3879/PA 100-0307): The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority can take inventory of what law enforcement agencies, county sheriff offices, and court systems are using predominantly paper systems.


Juvenile Expungement Expansion (HB 3817/PA 100-0285): Two years after a juvenile delinquency case is closed the record is automatically expunged. Homicides, felony sex offenses, certain bodily harm offenses, forcible felonies other than burglary and weapons offenses are excluded from expungement.


Immediate Sealing of Records (HB 514/PA 100-0282): Records from individuals who are acquitted or a case is dismissed with prejudice may be sealed immediately after the case is disposed.


DOC content controlled tablets (HB3712/PA 100-0198): Corrections officers shall provide inmates with content controlled computer tablets to be used for educational and visitation opportunities.


Restorative Justice Training for DJJ Personnel (HB 3165/PA 100-0157): Department of Juvenile Justice personnel are required to undergo training focused on having a victim, offender and community explore restitution.


Unfit to Stand Trial Placement (HB 649/100-0027): Inmates who are unfit to stand trial are to be transferred from county jails to Department of Human Services mental health facilities within 20 days.


Bail Reform Act of 2017 and State RICO Extension (SB 2034/PA 100-0001): Alleged offenders have a right to counsel at a bail hearing. It also extends Illinois’ RICO Act another five years and expands existing laws regarding threats to public officials.


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