For years, Illinois has been in critical need of criminal justice reform. Throughout the last 40 years we’ve seen our prison population spike from 10,000 to its high of nearly 49,000 inmates in 2015. And once offenders enter our criminal justice system, they experience a process that is out-of-date, costly, inhumane and ineffective. It doesn’t work for taxpayers, it doesn’t work for our employees and it doesn’t work for offenders.
Illinois’ criminal justice system has failed to enact policies that would help to rehabilitate offenders so that they are ready to live productive lives. Nearly 50 percent of former offenders return to prison within three years after their release, either by committing new crimes or violating the terms of their supervised release.
The people of Illinois believe in redemption; we believe in second chances. All of us at one time or another need a second chance to turn a wrong into a right. We shouldn’t be needlessly tearing families and lives apart.
We must reform our broken criminal justice system to balance punishment with rehabilitation to reduce crime overall, safely reduce our prison population, reduce recidivism, and help those who have paid for their crime find a positive path in life after serving their time.
Since coming into office, criminal justice reform has been among my administration’s top priorities. One of our first acts was to establish the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform to examine our current criminal justice and sentencing policies, practices, and resource allocation in Illinois. Our goal is to develop comprehensive, evidence-based strategies to more effectively improve public safety outcomes and reduce Illinois’ prison population by 25 percent before 2025.
In December 2015, that bipartisan commission presented 14 recommendations to the state to help accomplish that goal. Since then, a number of those recommendations have been signed into law, including legislation to require judges to explain why an incarceration sentence is appropriate for a low-level felony offender when they have no prior probation sentences or no prior convictions for a violent crime.
In addition, the Department of Corrections has taken executive actions to improve and expand the use of data and enact better policies to help with the rehabilitation of offenders prior to their release.
But we still have much more to do.
Today, Illinois is taking another step to reform our criminal justice system.
First, our administration will be closing Stateville Correctional Center’s F House, one of the state’s oldest and most costly prison housing units. Built in 1922, F House is the only remaining “roundhouse” in use in the United States. It’s Panopticon layout is antiquated and creates safety and operational hazards for both staff and offenders. The structure itself is labor-intensive for staff and promotes a loud, chaotic environment for offenders.
When also taking into account the $10.3 million in deferred maintenance costs for F House, Illinois is better served by investing its limited resources into housing units and community-based programs that meet current national best practices and help reduce recidivism.
Second, in the coming months, we will reopen and repurpose the Illinois Youth Center at Murphysboro, which was built in 1993 and opened in 1997. A critical piece of our reform efforts is to help offenders gain valuable skills that will enable them to re-enter society as productive citizens. With that goal in mind, the Department of Corrections will reopen Murphysboro as a Life Skills and Re-Entry Facility, which is a minimum security facility with a focus on preparing offenders for a successful transition back into society through educational, vocational and life skills training.
By closing F House and repurposing Murphysboro, Illinois is taking another important step to reform our criminal justice system. Our administration will continue working with members of the legislature, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority and other stakeholders so that we can continue to make meaningful progress on these reforms to accomplish our goal of improving outcomes and dramatically reducing Illinois’ prison population.
Bruce Rauner, the 42nd governor of Illinois, was inaugurated on Jan. 12, 2015.
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