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State criminal-justice reform panel makes more recommendations

A 2015 police cadet graduation ceremony. | Sun-Times file photo

SPRINGFIELD — A criminal-justice commission created by Gov. Bruce Rauner has produced its final recommendations, adding another 13 to its list.

Those recommendations include training to recognize “implicit racial and ethnic bias” among law-enforcement officers, judges and lawyers, as well as collecting data on race and ethnicity to understand how minorities are disproportionately affected by such bias.

Other new recommendations include reducing the minimum sentences for each felony class except for Class 4; reducing sentencing classifications for felony drug crimes, and limiting the maximum term of mandatory supervised release to 18 months for Class X, Class 1 and Class 2 felonies.

The sweeping recommendations, released Tuesday in a 94-page report, also include restoring the Halfway Back Program as an alternative to incarceration for those who violate mandatory supervised release, and reducing the area from 1,000 feet to 500 feet for charging people with drug crimes committed near parks, churches, schools and senior citizen facilities.

“This report is another important step in repairing our broken criminal justice system and safely reducing the prison population by 25 percent over 10 years,” Rauner said in a statement. “While our work is not over in achieving this goal, we have made significant achievements in changing the system.”

Rauner created the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform via executive order in February 2015. The governor’s office says the state’s prison population has since declined by 9.6 percent.

The commission last year submitted 14 recommendations. Two bills have since been signed into law based on them.

Also Tuesday, the Illinois Senate passed a bill to create new trauma-recovery centers for crime victims, as well as incentives for inmates to rehabilitate themselves. It also gives judges power to sentence people to probation and possibly jail time instead of prison when its more appropriate based on the risks and needs of an individual offender.

That measure passed the House on Monday and now heads to the governor’s desk. Rauner is expected to sign it.

The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, thanked Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, and Rauner for their support and noted the bipartisan cooperation behind the bill shows “what kind of work we can do together when we work together with a similar mission.”

Funding for the victim trauma-recovery centers will come from federal funds. Locations for those centers aren’t yet specified, but they will be staffed according to their needs, Gordon-Booth said.

Rauner has signed 15 criminal-justice bills, most recently one that ensures anyone released from prison has a valid state identification card upon release. That also stemmed from a commission recommendation.