Obscured by the gridlock in Springfield is one promising place where Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Legislature have come together to make progress: criminal justice reform.
As a Republican governor, Rauner has signed 15 worthy criminal justice bills, many of them advanced by Democrats. Among them were a bill introduced by Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, that clarifies juveniles cannot be sentenced to mandatory life in prison for certain crimes; a bill introduced by Sen. Patricia Van Pelt, D-Chicago, to establish safeguards for youths during interrogations, and a bill introduced by Sen. Iris Y. Martinez, D-Chicago, to allow some health care workers convicted of non-forcible felonies to get their licenses restored after several years.
Shortly after taking office, Rauner also created the bipartisan Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, which is working to reduce the state’s prison population by 25 percent by 2025.
Most recently, on Thursday, Rauner signed a bipartisan bill that adopted an early recommendation by the commission: That inmates be given a state ID card the moment they are released from prison, making it easier for them to get a job and a place to live, the first big steps toward reintegration into society. Various government agencies will have to coordinate their efforts to make this work, but it’s a simple and practical reform.
People working in the trenches of criminal justice reform are quick to say they are appalled at the collapse of reliable state funding for social service agencies, which are essential to their work. They nevertheless praise the governor for appointing good people to lead his reform efforts, including John R. Baldwin as acting director of the Illinois Department of Corrections; John Maki as executive director of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority; Roger Heaton as Illinois public safety director, and Heidi Mueller as the recently named acting director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice.
Gov. Rauner also has cleared up a years-old backlog of commutation and pardon requests. He granted very few — and we don’t understand why he has declined so far to pardon exonerated former Death Row inmate Gordon “Randy” Steidl — but at least people are no longer waiting for decisions.
Redeploy Illinois, a program aimed at keeping nonviolent offenders out of prison by beefing up community-based services, offers yet another example of bipartisan success. After being kept on life support by counties around the state, the governor and Legislature secured full funding for the program for the past year.
Now, with cautious optimism, we await further reforms. By the end of the year, the governor’s criminal justice reform commission is due to make more recommendations, building on efforts that already have lowered the state prison population by about 9 percent.
At least on matters of criminal justice reform, the governor and Legislature have demonstrated, without much fuss, that they can work together.Tweets by @csteditorials