Final Report: Parts I & II (December 2016)

In February 2015, Governor Bruce Rauner created the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. As the Commission began its work, Illinois prisons were operating at 150% of design capacity, and, at the beginning of 2015, housed 48,278 inmates, almost half of whom were sentenced for non-violent offenses, Nearly all of these prisoners will eventually return to their communities, and about half will be re-incarcerated within the following three years.

The Commission completed Part 1 of its work in December 2015 with fourteen recommendations. The Commission continued their work in 2016 and added another thirteen recommendations in Part II. These twenty-seven recommendations cover a wide variety of sentencing reforms and in particular include several that directly focus on efforts of reducing recidivism when prisoner are released back into their community. Four of these recommendation are reported here since they could enhance the efforts of Our Brothers’ Keepers of Southern Illinois to provide support housing and services to those returning citizen so that they can be productive citizens in their communities.

  • Increase rehabilitative services and treatment capacity in high-need communities. Give the highest priority to behavioral health/trauma services, housing, and work force development with transportation support.
  • Make better use of Adult Transition Centers. Ensure that the use of Adult Transition Centers are informed by the risk-and-needs research and evidence, which shows that residential transitional facilities, paired with appropriate programming, should be primarily reserved for high and medium risk offenders to obtain the greatest public safety benefit.
  • Enhance rehabilitative programming in IDOC. Implement or expand evidence-based programming that targets criminogenic need, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy and substance abuse treatment.
  • Restore the Halfway Back program for an alternative to incarceration for violations of Mandatory Supervised Release. The goal of the HWB was to reduce the rate of return to IDOC for technical violations by providing a highly-structured community residential environment with 90 days of programming to address cognitive, behavioral, social, and other skills. The program consisted of 15 hours per week of services, including assessments, group sessions, individual counseling, GED instructions and pre-employment training.

Role of Prisons and The Impact of High Incarceration

In recent years Illinois’ prison population has reached a record high of almost 50,000 inmates in a system designed for 32,000 people, making the Illinois Department of Corrections one of the largest and most crowded prison systems in the United States. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Illinois incarceration remained comparatively stable at between 54 and 66 inmates per 100,000 citizens, with its prisons housing fewer than 10,000 people. But by the 1970s there was a growing opinion that “nothing worked” to rehabilitate offenders, and that the most effective response to crime was increasing the use of prison to incapacitate current offenders and deter future ones. In the last four decades, the Illinois prison population has grown from fewer than 10,000 to a recent high of about 49,000 inmates. More alarmingly, the rate of imprisonment increased more than five-fold, from about 66 inmates per 100,000 citizens in 1975, to almost 380 inmates per 100,000 in 2014.

The impact of high incarceration or incarcerating offenders excessively or unnecessarily undermines the IDOC mission of “promoting postive change in offender behavior, operating successful reentry programs, and reducing victimization.” This overreliance on incarcerations has resulted in four problems for the IDOC mission:

  • An excessive rate of incarceration incapacitates more than public safety requires. The greater use of incarceration does not automatically translate into less offending.
  • Illinois’ overcrowded prisons undermine the justice system’s capacity to rehabilitate. Rehabilitative programming can reduce recidivism when it addressed the needs offenders have that led them to engage in criminal behavior. This leads to two conclusions: first, that effective prison programming is essential to rehabilitation; and second, that when consistent with public safety, it is preferable – and less expensive – to provide offenders with rehabilitative programming in a community-based setting, rather than in prison.
  • High levels of incarceration are unlikely to deter future crime sufficiently to offset the high costs. Sentencing law and policy was grounded in the belief that harsher sentences would lead directly to a greater deterrent and thus to lower level of crime. Research and experience does not support this assumption but can weaken the deterrence by making the experience of incarceration more common.
  • Because incarceration disproportinally affects poor communities, it risks exacerbating their existing social and economic disadvantages and thus can damage both their ability to reduce crime outside of the justice system and their relationship with the justice system.

Excessive incarceration hinders the IDOC mission of rehabilitation since the personnel, administrative, and housing costs associated with a high number of inmates means that there is little money resources left for programming, In Fiscal Year 2015, slighly more than 3% of the Illinois Department of Corrections’ total budget was dedicated to programming. High numbers of inmates also means that the programming that is offered is frequently insufficient. This leads to the grim assessment: Illlinois’ prisons not only lack the capacity to deliver effective rehabilitative programming, but they also are likely to increase victimization by making some offenders worse. Just as important, excessive incarceration hampers the ability of IDOC to deliver rehabilitative services outside of prison. The State’s deep investment in prisons has stymied the development of a systemic ability to sanction, supervise, and treat offenders in the community.

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Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform (December 2016)