When the General Assembly passed its budget back in July, it
partially addressed the state's $11.6 billion deficit by granting Gov.
Pat Quinn the authority to cut several billion dollars in government
spending. In line with that responsibility, Quinn is now turning his ...
When the General Assembly passed its budget back in July, it partially addressed the state's $11.6 billion deficit by granting Gov. Pat Quinn the authority to cut several billion dollars in government spending. In line with that responsibility, Quinn is now turning his attention to the state's corrections department. He has already declared his intention to cut 1,000 corrections jobs for a savings of roughly $125 million and is also considering releasing nonviolent offenders, as the Tribune notes:
The governor also acknowledged he has his state prisons director, Michael Randle, “looking at the issue” of the early release of non-violent inmates to help save money as part of a move to layoff more than 1,000 state corrections workers.
“I haven’t made any final decisions,” Quinn said of the early release of inmates, which is allowed by state law for prisoners who are within a year of their release date. “Crimes against persons-- we’re not interested in letting folks who have those crimes out early. There may be something we’ll look at with respect to those who have crimes against property,” he said.
When it comes to the state's prison system, there's certainly a lot of fat to be trimmed. The AP's Jim Schur notes that the department's last fiscal year budget was a whopping $1.44 billion, greater than all other departments, with the exception of human services and health care. Forty-four percent of the state's 45,000 inmates (each cost taxpayers roughly $30,o00 per year to house) were charged with drug or property-related crimes.
But if the state is going to ensure that the prison population doesn't balloon again in the future, a goal the Taxpayer Action Board advocated for in its report (PDF) earlier this year, more substantive sentencing reforms need to be implemented at the legislative level.
Unfortunately, the General Assembly doesn't seem that interested. For the third year in a row, the House handily defeated a bill sponsored by Rep. Art Turner (D-Chicago) that would have allowed inmates who are at least 50 years old and who have served at least 25 consecutive years to petition the state Prisoner Review Board for release. While it only affects around 300 inmates, reforming just this one aspect of the state's parole system would set a healthy precedent. Sen. Kwame Raoul's cost impact bill was also left on the table at the end of session. This measure would have required the state produce a fiscal impact statement to accompany any change that increased the state's prison population. After passing the Illinois Senate unanimously in May, it died quietly in the House Rules Committee.
The state would also do well to ramp up the investments it makes in programs that serve as alternatives to incarceration. If non-violent offenders are released, the state needs to support those citizens once they are back in their own communities. Northwestern Law Professor Malcolm Young issued a comprehensive report (PDF) in June outlining 24 humane -- and economically responsible -- reforms Illinois officials could make, both in sentencing and in anti-recidivism promotion. With the initial cuts on their way, now would be a good time to review that material.