Illinois’ prison population trending down with more reforms possible

The state is on pace to see a 25 percent reduction of the prison population by the governor’s target date of 2025, but is enough being done?

Illinois Department of Corrections officials say the state’s prison population has dropped 9.1 percent since Jan. 2015.

Criminal justice reform group the John Howard Association’s Executive Director Jenny Vollen-Katz said recent reform measures are good but only nibbling at the edges.

“And I would argue that we’ve taken some first steps, but if we really want to do this we’re going to have to jump in the pool and swim,” Vollen-Katz said. “We can’t just stand at the shallow end.”

Corrections Director John Baldwin said Illinois is making great strides thanks to the governor’s commission on criminal justice and sentencing reform.

“If we’re like other states, large states, that have done this there will be a reconstitution of (the commission) at some time in the future and they will take another bite of the apple,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin said corrections is an institution that requires small bites of reform with positive impact over time.

State lawmakers from both sides have come together to pass a series of criminal justice reforms, including allowing former offenders to get licensed for certain jobs.

Vollen-Katz said more can be done.

“There are so many professions where professional licensure could be changed so that people who have a criminal record can apply and get jobs more easily,” Vollen-Katz said. “We need to be more direct, we need to be more thoughtful and we need to be more realistic about what it’s going to take to make meaningful, lasting change.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner said one of the best ways to keep people out prison is not just criminal justice reforms to make professional licensure easier but economic reforms to grow jobs.

“(If) we can break that cycle of recidivism, people are safer in our communities, our prison population is less and we have a more safe and just society,” Rauner said.

Rauner said to expect more criminal justice reforms in the year ahead.

Corrections officials say in January 2015 there were 48,214 inmates in Illinois prisons. Numbers compiled earlier this month had that number at 43,807, or down more than 4,400 inmates, a decline of 9.1 percent.

–Illinois News Network

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