Prison reform offers opportunity for long-term budget savings

Criminal Law – prison reform
·         With 49,000 inmates housed in Illinois prisons and confinement spaces, the operational cost of the system has become one of the heaviest “fixed costs” in the Illinois budget picture.  With each inmate costing more than $22,000 per year to incarcerate, taxpayers must spend approximately $1.3 billion/year on Illinois prison operations.  These costs continue even during times, like now, when Illinois does not have a spending budget.  The operations of Illinois prisons are defined as matters of essential public safety, and they continue whether or not the money to pay for their operations has been appropriated by law.  Illinois prisons are operated by the Department of Corrections.

As part of long-term planning, Gov. Bruce Rauner has convened a Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. The 28-member panel, which includes executive criminologists and representatives of law enforcement, has issued a series of recommendations intended to reduce Illinois’ prison population by approximately 25% over a 10-year period. The recommendations center on three major policy areas: (a) improved classification of prisoners in terms of likelihood that they will commit new crimes after release; (b) improved behavioral-modification services, during and after imprisonment, for subgroups of eligible inmates; and (c) grant more leeway to trial courts and their judges when sentencing offenders for non-violent crimes. 

These and other recommendations match policies that are being considered or put into effect in several traditionally tough-on-crime states such as Georgia, Kansas and Texas.   Action by the General Assembly will be necessary to implement the Commission’s recommendations.