Commentary: 10 things residents should know about the Illinois justice system

By Bryant Jackson-Green
Illinois Policy Institute

Illinois’ criminal-justice system has serious problems.

For example, despite having a $1.3 billion budget, the Illinois Department of Corrections, or IDOC, won’t be able to make payroll come April.

The Innocence Project continues to dig up and overturn wrongful convictions. In short, the system is ripe for change.

Reform won’t come easy, and it won’t happen until people understand how much they’re paying for the state’s criminal-justice system, and have an idea of its strengths and weaknesses.

Here are 10 things you should know about Illinois’ criminal-justice system:

  1. Illinois’ prison population has increased sevenfold since the 1970s. The state has over 48,000 prisoners today.
  1. Illinois prisons were only designed to hold 32,075 inmates. Therefore, our prisons are now holding over 150 percent of their design capacity.
  1. Incarceration breaks up families. Nearly 62 percent of Illinois inmates have at least one child.
  1. Incarceration disproportionately affects racial minorities. African-Americans made up over 57 percent of the state’s prison population in 2013.
  1. Illinois has the sixth-highest rate of wrongful convictions per capita. It’s because of the risk of wrongful convictions that former Gov. George Ryan enacted a moratorium on capital punishment in 2000, which was made permanent by legislation passed in 2011.
  1. The IDOC budget was $1.3 billion last year. But with the added cost of pension contributions, employee benefits and capital costs, Illinoisans contribute an additional $566 million to their criminal-justice system each year.
  1. Illinois had a recidivism rate of 47 percent in 2012, meaning that 47 percent of IDOC inmates returned to prison within three years.
  1. Illinois operates 25 prisons but only four adult transition centers, which allow offenders to serve out the end of their sentence under community supervision while finding work. A 2008 study showed that inmates who participated in a transition program with the Safer Foundation were 62 percent less likely to reoffend.
  1. Alternatives to prison are proving successful. The Redeploy Illinois program, for example, gives counties funding for community supervision and treatment programs for youth who would otherwise be incarcerated. The sites that participated in the program were able to reduce their commitments to the Department of Juvenile Justice by 53 percent in 2010.
  1. IDOC spent over $320 million in the last five years in overtime costs for employees, according to an investigation by the Better Government Association.

One thought on “Commentary: 10 things residents should know about the Illinois justice system

  • March 17, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    All that money and still no justice!!!

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