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Is Illinois Poised to Become Leader on Criminal Justice Reforms?

New numbers show that regardless of political affiliation, most Illinois voters agree that big changes need to be made to the state's criminal justice system. (iStockphoto)
New numbers show that regardless of political affiliation, most Illinois voters agree that big changes need to be made to the state's criminal justice system. (iStockphoto)
April 20, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - New research shows an overwhelming majority of Illinois voters support changes to the state's criminal justice system, even across party lines.

The U.S. Justice Action Network released a new poll this week that says about 94 percent of Illinois Republicans and Democrats agree that the goal of the state's criminal justice system should shift to rehabilitation.

Network executive director Holly Harris says providing assistance, such as job training for people convicted of low-level, non-violent offenses, could help keep them from re-offending while saving tax dollars.

"We're spending millions and in some cases billions of dollars on incarceration and we're not getting the public safety return that we deserve," says Harris. "The 10 states over the last decade that have most significantly reduced their prison populations saw roughly a 13 percent drop in their crime rate."

Conversely, Harris says the states that most increased their prison populations through what she calls tough-on-crime measures saw only an eight percent drop in crime.

The poll comes as state lawmakers consider recommendations from Gov. Bruce Rauner's Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.

According to the conservative-leaning reform group Right on Crime, last year Illinois' taxpayers spent $1.4 billion on the criminal justice system.

Both Right on Crime and the U.S. Justice Action Network say that money could be better spent elsewhere. The groups are urging state lawmakers to pass reforms such as lowering mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders.

"If they move these recommendations from the commission forward you will see a lot of national attention on Illinois and it could become a national leader, like Texas, like Georgia, like South Carolina," Harris says.

Other findings from the poll include 85 percent of Illinois voters support shifting money from locking up non-violent offenders to other rehabilitative solutions, such as mandatory community supervision programs, including probation and parole.


Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - IL