Rauner signs bill to rehabilitate prisoners, expand probation

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Gov. Bruce Rauner signs legislation Friday that focuses on building trauma centers within Illinois prisons, among other things. | Maria Cardona/Sun-Times

A wider range of crimes will be eligible for probation, rather than prison terms, and “trauma centers” might be built within state prisons under legislation that Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Friday.

“This will help keep our community safer, help victims of crime recover, and help those who committed a crime get the rehabilitation they need,” Rauner said during a morning news conference in downtown Chicago. “Prison should not just be about punishment [and] locking people away. It needs to be about preventing the individual offender from committing crimes again.”

For Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, the law hits close to home. Her own son was fatally shot in 2014.

“The work we have done with this bill will have such a transformative impact on communities all across the state,” she said. “We’re doing more to deal with crime and violence than just incarcerating people by throwing them into institutions where they’re coming out far worse that when they went in.”

The changes sparked by the new law include:

• Making some crimes eligible for probationary sentences rather than prison time. Previously, crimes including marijuana trafficking, cocaine possession and other drug-related offenses required prison terms. Now, judges will have the discretion to put offenders on probation for those crimes, thereby keeping them out of the prison system.

• Establishing rehabilitation centers within state prisons that aim to prevent recidivism once inmates are released. There are currently no so-called “trauma recovery centers” in Illinois prisons, though there is federal funding available for them.

• Allowing some prison inmates to get additional time off their sentences — unless they are incarcerated under a “truth-in-sentencing” offense, such as murder. Currently, incarcerated individuals not subject to truth in sentencing receive one day of credit toward their sentences for each day served. The new law expands programs that offer additional days off for “good conduct” if inmates meet certain criteria after undergoing a “risk/needs assessment.”


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