Local expert weighs-in on Illinois prison reform - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Local expert weighs-in on Illinois prison reform

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WSIL --As Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner pushes for short-term spending on prison reforms, criminal justice experts say the focus should be on keeping low level drug offenders out of jail. 

Federal data show Illinois has one of the most crowded prison systems in the country.The number of people imprisoned in Illinois has increased 500% in the last four decades, a trend Rauner calls unsustainable.

To deal with overcrowding, a special state commission is pushing for prison systems to focus more on rehabilitation, rather than jail time. The Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform has released several recommendations. Among them: making it easier for judges to give probation sentences for crimes like residential burglary and drug violations.

The commission also recommends the state make better use of adult transition centers and home confinement as a way to keep offenders out of prison. 

According to SIU criminal justice professor Breanne Pleggenkuhle, initially drug offenders should be targeted.

"Drug offenders probably seem the least threatening and we would be most willing as a public to get on board and say these people don't deserve to be in prison," Pleggenkuhle said.

Rauner agrees and suggests he's willing to spend in the short-term to achieve what he hopes will be long-term savings.

"I firmly believe that we can make the people of Illinois safer. I believe that we can save taxpayer money and, most importantly, I believe we can help those who have made mistakes lead productive lives," Rauner said during a meeting with leaders from the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.

Rauner hopes to reduce Illinois prison population by 25% in the next decade.

One of the most cost effective ways to do that would be creating more mid level forms of punishment that also contribute to society, such as work camps, Pleggenkuhle said.

"There's a whole host of these types of programs that are less expensive than prison and more beneficial probably for the offender," Pleggenkuhle said.

Governor Rauner argues that although most of what the special commission is proposing is nonpartisan, he still expects a battle. His administration has the authority to implement some of them without legislative approval

"These are emotional issues. These are very charged. There's no question there's bias within the system," Rauner said.

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