U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL,9) is among the individuals scheduled to attend the ACLU of Illinois' annual luncheon being held Friday afternoon in Chicago.
The topic of criminal justice reform will be the focus of the luncheon, where New York Times op-ed columnist Charles M. Blow will be the featured speaker.
Progress Illinois talked with Schakowsky earlier in the day at an unrelated event about the issue of criminal justice reform.
At the luncheon, the congresswoman planned to discuss her experience at the Stateville Correctional Center this week and "why we need to change the laws and make sure that we are not incarcerating people who don't need to be there."
Schakowsky visited the adult male maximum security facility, located in suburban Will County, on Wednesday. She sat in on a class "on values and on mass incarceration" taught at the facility by a Northwestern University professor. About 15 prisoners who have been sentenced to life were in the class.
"Some have been in prison 20, 30 years," Schakowsky said. "They committed crimes when they were teenagers. Some actually juveniles, but were sentenced as adults to die in prison. No chance of parole."
The students in the class "were so engaged" and "wanting to improve themselves," she said.
"And yet there's no parole. There's no good time. There's no credit for anything for them to be able to get out," the congresswoman said, adding that "there is no chance for rehabilitation for these people."
"This encounter set my hair on fire," Schakowsky continued. "The idea that there's no consideration of the science that says the older people get, the less possibility that they will be recidivists. And so these people can't even come up for a chance at parole, and it was just an amazing group of students, all men, all but two either black or brown. And as I took a tour of the prison, that's all I really saw."
Schakowsky spoke to the costs associated with housing inmates at the maximum security prison.
"We can't even afford it. The cost of incarcerating these individuals, it's about $30,000 a year. When you get to be a senior citizen in prison, it's up to $70,000 a year to care for them," she said. "Why are we doing this to ourselves? And these are people who are anxious to contribute and at least should be considered for that."
Although criminal justice reform has "been stalled in the United States Congress," Schakowsky said she is encouraged by the bipartisan discussions occurring around the issue.
"So far, it is just talk, but I do believe that there is some progress at hand if we keep pushing forward," she said. "Even if we just talk to our colleagues about the incredible expense -- we're paying at the federal level $80 billion a year on prisons ... That doesn't count what's being spent here in the state system, and so we could do better for our communities and for our budgets."