Gov. Bruce Rauner has explained that “we haven’t properly staffed and invested in our correction systems, and we imprison too many non-violent offenders while failing to provide them with ways to get back into society and become productive citizens.”
The fact that the Illinois prison system is broken was the basis for Our Brothers’ Keepers of Southern Illinois forming as a faith-based organization that is dedicated to the full integration of formerly incarcerated persons into the community. The mission is to assist those returning citizens in attaining productive citizenship by providing reentry services, including supportive housing, life and career skills, and counseling services.
What is the current situation with our Illinois prisons?
The Illinois state prisons incarcerate 49,000 adults in a system designed for 32,000 at an annual cost of $1.4 billion. This makes incarceration the state’s most expensive form of punishment. Illinois’ prisons lack the resources to provide prisoners with meaningful programming, making it more likely that offenders will commit new crimes when they are released. In the 1960-1970’s there were about 60 inmates incarcerated per 100,000 citizens with its prisons housing fewer than 10,000 people at a cost of less than $52 million. In the late 70’s the politicians and opinion leaders shifted to the belief that “nothing worked” to rehabilitate offenders and the most effective response to crime was to increase the use of prisons to incapacitate current offenders and to deter future ones.
The result was that over the last four decades (1970-2012) the Illinois prison population has grown from fewer than 10,000 to the current high of about 49,000 inmates which represents about 380 inmates incarcerated per 100,000 citizens and at a cost of $1.4 billion.
Who is represented in the Illinois prison population?
In 2014, non-Hispanic whites made up 63% of Illinois’ total population, but accounted for only 29% of the State’s prison population. However, African-Americans made up about 15% of the State’s population but make up almost 60% of its prison inmates about 7x higher than non-Hispanic whites. Hispanics made up about 17% of the State’s population while only 12 percent of its prison population, and were incarcerated at almost 2x the rate of non-Hispanic whites.
What about Illinois prison recidivism?
The Illinois prisons are not simply a place we send offenders; it is also a system that releases offenders, who then must confront the challenges of living on the outside. In Illinois about 95% of all inmates will eventually be released and that represents about 30,000 inmates each year. The problem is that of the 30,000 inmates released, roughly 50% will return to prison within three years of their release, either because they committed a new offense or because they violated a condition of their supervised release.
Who is the prison inmate?
We could describe the inmates in regards to several characteristics that include poor education (school dropout), lacks marketable skills, addicted to or abused drugs and alcohol, abused / neglected as a child, poor health issues and no spiritual life lived.
Why send them to prison?
The rationale to send persons to prison is based on the retributive justice model and not on restorative justice. Retribution is based on removing them from society to protect the community, some suggest it scares persons into following the law, also provides employment for guards/staff, and allows politicians to appear as “tough on crime.”
Impact of Illinois High Incarceration Rates
The problem that Illinois faces is not only that its prisons are crowded and overly expensive, but also that the State undermines the IDOC’s mission of “promoting positive change in offender behavior, operating successful reentry programs, and reducing recidivism.” Rehabilitative programming can reduce recidivism when it addresses the needs of offenders that led them to engage in criminal activity. This leads to two conclusions: first, that effective prison programming is essential to rehabilitation; and second, that when consistent with public safety, it is always preferable – less expensive – to provide offenders with rehabilitative programming in a community-based setting, rather then in prison. The problem is that in 2015, only about 3% of IDOC’s total budget was dedicated to such programming.
IDOC – Program Challenges
Current IDOC programming faces a number of challenges. Currently there are 320 programs offered across all 28 IDOC facilities, but quality programming remains in short supply. There are many problems such as long wait lists, funding is insufficient, qualified personnel are not available or hard to retain, and the physical space inside the prison is inadequate. Another problem is that the programs are not evidence based and if information is collected it is not analyzed. Finally, programming that is not evidence-based has not been validated and can produces outcomes that are often worse than no programming at all. Gov. Rauner’s Commission has gathered evidence that programming works best when it is coupled with similar community-based support for offenders after their release.
Our Brothers’ Keepers of Southern Illinois – Program Challenges
The vision is to work with the IDOC and parole officers to assist “returning citizens” to be productive citizens by the full integration of these men and women into the community and the community must also be involved. We will reach out to all social and human service providers, faith communities and government agencies, to help in the process of integration. Special emphasis will be placed on acquiring life and career skills designed for returning citizens.
The Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform: Part 1 (12/2015) (www.icjia.state.il.us/cjreform2015)
Our Brothers’ Keepers of Southern Illinois – Mission and Vision (www.obkministry.org)