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Rauner signs justice reforms: ‘People deserve redemption’

Gov. Bruce Rauner was in Chicago Monday to sign several criminal justice reform measures. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday signed into law five bills aimed at changing the state’s criminal justice system to help young people avoid incarceration — or to help people who end up behind bars get back on their feet once they’re released.

One of the bills seeks to keep low-level offenders out of prison by requiring an explanation from judges of why incarceration is appropriate for people with no prior probation or prison sentences.

Another bill changes the minimum probation period for minors. The measure was enacted to bring Illinois in line with other states and the latest research by reducing mandatory minimum lengths of probation and emphasizing treatment, not punishment, for low-level drug offenses.

“We’re all human. We’re God’s children. We’re not perfect. We make mistakes,” Rauner said Monday at a bill signing ceremony held at a West Side facility that helps ex-offenders get back on their feet. “People deserve redemption. People deserve an opportunity for a second chance.”

Rauner grabbed from a row of pens to also sign into law a bill that allows a juvenile to immediately petition the court for expungement when he or she is charged with an offense that is dismissed without a finding of delinquency. Previously the law only allowed for a petition of expungement to be sought when the youth reached the age of 18.

Another bill will make using the phone more affordable for inmates by requiring the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice to reduce the rate they can contract for telephone providers.

A separate bill signed Monday changes a law stating that park districts could not employ any person convicted of certain drug offenses. The law has been amended to allow for the hiring of such folks seven years after the completion of their sentence.

Seven Democratic and one Republican state legislator spoke at the bill signing. Many of them praised Rauner for making bi-partisan strides to create the legislation, but added there is still much work to do.

“This is proof positive that we can work together to get things done,” said Rep. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago). “This system does not work. It’s broken on a number of levels and we’ve got reform it to its core.”

Rauner agreed that reforming the state’s criminal justice system is not nearly over.

“This is a process. This is not compete. This is a step we’re going to take to reform our criminal justice system,” Rauner said. “It’s not only about punishment. It’s about rehabilitation and re-entry as a productive, positive member of society.”