A panel appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner to study ways to reduce population at Illinois prisons and reduce recidivism issued its first report Wednesday, saying the goal will be tough to achieve.
Rauner wants the panel, whose members include St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, to find a way to reduce the state’s prison population by 25 percent in 10 years.
The initial report by the 28-member panel, called the Criminal Justice Reform Commission, concludes that reducing prisoner count by 25 percent is a “groundbreaking goal.”
The report says the goal will require “not only hard work and dedication, but also courage from Illinoisans to confront difficult issues and to question long-held assumptions. The goal can only be achieved by making smarter decisions about who should be sentenced to prison and for what period of time, who can and should be punished by other methods, and what steps can be taken to help offenders return to successful citizenship after prison.”
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Reducing the inmate count, the report says, “will not be easy and it will not be risk-free. But, as Gov. Rauner’s order makes clear, acting boldly can make Illinois a better place for all of us.”
Holding a person in an Illinois prison costs the state about $22,000 a year for each inmate.
The commission’s initial report says it has much more work ahead.
“Before it can produce a final report that will recommend ways to safely reduce the prison population by 25 percent over the next 10 years, the Commission must research, analyze, and debate the options described in this report as well as others that remain to be identified,” the report states. “While carrying out this task, the commission will continue to listen. It will actively seek the views of the people in the cities of Chicago and East St. Louis, whose communities present particular challenges; it will hear more from victims’ rights groups, former offenders, law enforcement officials, treatment providers, and defense attorneys. And the Commission will study carefully what other states are doing to address the challenge of incarceration reduction.”
Kelly said Wednesday he’s confident the commission can make progress toward the goal.
“Prosecutors and police will be cautious about reforms, but if we can see evidence that reforms will make the community safer and free up resources to focus on violent offenders, we should be able to reach some consensus adn make some progress,” Kelly said. “I’m glad law enforcement’s perspective is being heard and respected.”
The commission’s initial concerns include the capacity of programs for criminal offenders outside of prisons.
“Access to programs and services that address the underlying causes of criminality is the foundation for changing behavior and reducing recidivism,” the report states. “If capacity is not addressed before people are shifted out of prison and into a community supervision system, there is a predictable risk that crime will increase, at least until that capacity is established. Understanding the nature and extent of current treatment and service capacity, as well as the resources currently available to the forensic population, is critical to the commission’s work.”