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Sunday Letters: Reconsider making prisoners pay for incarceration

The Vienna Correctional Center in Vienna, Ill. (AP Photo/The Southern, Steve Jahnke)

A recent guest column [“State making it harder for ex-cons to go straight,” Jan. 20) addressed an important issue. David Shapiro argued that it may be time for Illinois to repeal the law allowing the state to recoup the cost of incarceration from prisoners in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

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I agree. Before Mr. Shapiro’s column, I called on the Legislature to revisit whether this 1982 law remains appropriate. These recoveries may raise roadblocks to former inmates trying to lead successful lives out of prison. As a result, the judgments made in attempting to recover incarceration costs raise moral questions that I believe legislators need to address.

To encourage a productive policy discussion, it is important to clarify inaccurate and unsupported assertions in Mr. Shapiro’s column. His claim that the state enforces this law “with unprecedented vigor” is undermined by the facts. These matters begin when the Department of Corrections identifies specific cases for lawsuits. From 2010 through 2015, the state filed 31 of these cases. With over 45,000 people incarcerated in Illinois, these lawsuits are extremely rare.

The facts vary tremendously in each case. For instance, the state recovered over $100,000 from one of the Brown’s Chicken murderers and $318,000 from an inmate serving 36 years for aggravated sexual assault.

Furthermore, contrary to Mr. Shapiro’s claim, the state does not seek to recover money that prisoners receive from lawsuits against the Department of Corrections.

But the fact remains that some of these cases raise questions about our policies to help people lead successful lives out of prison. I urge the Legislature to consider whether it’s time to change the law.

Lisa Madigan, Illinois Attorney General

A great service

The Sun Times investigative team of Lauren Fitzpatrick and Fran Spielman has done a great service for our city by exposing to a wider audience the boondoggle that is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s private cache of TIF money, which he controls and doles out to corporate and political supporters.

The fact that this money is taxpayer money and should serve the needs of the majority of Chicagoans, especially the poor, has never particularly bothered the mayor.

Edward D. Juillard, Morgan Park

Wise proposal

The brain for most people is not fully developed until one is 21, and sometimes not until 25.

Alcohol use, and cigarette smoking, should not occur until then if one wishes to load the dice in one’s favor and increase the chances that one will accomplish all that one is capable of. After all, suffering is optional.

Furthermore, helping to prevent young people from developing yet another addiction is a no-brainer (pun intended).

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s recent proposal to raise the legal age to buy tobacco to 21 is wise, and an important step in the right direction. There are no downsides. Congratulations to the mayor and those Chicago leaders who choose to support this wise decision.

Leon J. Hoffman, Lake View

Too quick to blame?

“Is it remotely possible that the absence of black nominees for the Academy Awards is more of a function of talent than color? I ask this question because Hollywood actors and actresses are collectively the most liberal group on the planet, and, at the risk of generalizing, have done more for race relations worldwide than any of their peers. Just recently Denzel Washington received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.”

Sometimes blaming our shortcomings on those circumstances that we cannot control is easier than accepting the fact that we just didn’t make the grade.

John F. Livaich, Oak Lawn