PHOTOS BY ANTHONY SOUFFLE/TNS
Gov. Bruce Rauner
The final report by the Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform includes measures that could achieve Gov. Bruce Rauner’s goal of reducing the prison population by 25 percent over the next 10 years, according to commission chairman and public safety director Rodger Heaton. The report added 13 new recommendations to the ones presented to the governor in 2016, for a total of 27 recommendations.
“This report is another important step in repairing our broken criminal justice system and safely reducing the prison population by 25 percent over 10 years,” Rauner said in a press release issued by the governor’s office. “While our work is not over in achieving this goal, we have made significant achievements in changing the system. We will carefully review the commission’s latest recommendations, and I thank the commissioners for their diligent and thoughtful work.”
The latest recommendations address “increasing rehabilitative and treatment services in high-need communities; training on racial and ethnic bias for all people working in the criminal justice system; collecting data on race and ethnicity at every point of the criminal justice system for a comprehensive, system-wide analysis; and realigning sentence recommendations to focus on rehabilitation while still holding people accountable and promoting justice,” according to the same press release.
Specific recommendations include reducing the sentence classification for all felony drug crimes by one class, making the crime of possession of a stolen motor vehicle into a class three rather than a class two felony and improving the use of adult transition centers by reserving them for high- and medium-risk offenders.
Todd Belcore, lecturer at University of Chicago Law School and founder of the nonprofit organization Social Change, which advocates for criminal justice reform, says the material presented in the report is nothing new. “These are ideas that have been percolating anywhere between five to ten years,” he explained. “That said, I don’t think there’s any reason not to be optimistic. This was a necessary step for advocates like myself.”
Belcore says that a report like this from a bipartisan task force often provides the political cover necessary for elected officials to vote in favor of such measures. “My platform as an advocate is even more robust than usual by virtue of the fact that this commission existed. I think there’s been a realization nationally that there is a lack of utility in the traditional ‘tough on crime’ approach. There’s an understanding that we’re not getting a lot done in Illinois right now and the least we can do is focus on the things we all know we agree on. Justice reform is one of those sweet spots where that takes place.”
In February 2015, Rauner signed Executive Order 15-14 to create the Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform and charged the commission to research ways to safely reduce the prison population by 25 percent over 10 years. Since that time, Illinois’ prison population has declined by 9.6 percent. The report, including all 27 recommendations, is available for viewing online at http://www.icjia.org/cjreform2015/
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