Commission given goal of drastically reducing prison population

Governor wants commission to reduce incarceration rate by 25 percent

The Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform has been given the ambitious task of reducing the state's prison population by 25 percent, according to the Northwest Journal. The goal follows similar goals adopted by other states and is being driven by both a desire to successfully reintegrate offenders into society and reduce the economic costs of high incarceration rates that taxpayers currently bear. While how the reduction will be achieved is still being examined, it is likely that reforms of nonviolent offenses, particularly drug offenses, will be a high priority for the commission.

Reduction of 25 percent

The commission was set up by Governor Bruce Rauner, who recently announced the goal of a 25-percent prison population reduction, and includes members from both political parties. The 25-percent reduction is to be achieved within the next decade. Similar goals have been adopted by other states, such as California.

Support for Sentencing and prison reform has become a popular bipartisan issue in recent years. Illinois' current prison population is well beyond capacity, holding 48,000 inmates in a system designed to handle 33,000. Not only do high incarceration rates tear apart families and communities and make it difficult for convicted offenders to reintegrate into society, but it is also an increasingly heavy burden on taxpayers. The state currently spends $1.3 billion annually on the Department of Corrections.

Nonviolent drug crimes

Justice reform advocates say that mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes are a primary driving force behind high incarceration rates. Such harsh sentences for what are often nonviolent offenses are quickly being seen as disproportionate punishments. Reducing or eliminating some of those mandatory sentences will allow judges to tailor sentences that better fit the crime, which in some cases could include substance abuse treatment programs rather than prison.

However, as the Chicago Sun-Times points out, the success of reducing the prison population will depend on the presence of social programs for those who may be released. Recidivism rates in Illinois are disturbingly high, with about two-thirds of inmates who are released re-offending within three years. In addition to reducing the prison population, the commission will also have to come up with ways of ensuring that those who are released have the assistance needed to reintegrate into society.

Criminal defense

Being charged with a criminal offense can be a frightening prospect for anybody, not only because of a potential prison sentence but also because of the long-term damage a criminal record can cause. Being convicted of a crime can mean a loss of employment and education opportunities for years to come.

For anybody who is currently facing a criminal charge, an experienced criminal defense attorney is a necessity. The right attorney can help protect the rights of the accused and fight to help reduce the impact a criminal charge can have on his or her prospects.