All posts by Bryant Jackson-Green

Removing work barriers key to justice reform

It’s no secret Illinois is in terrible financial shape. To be sure, the state’s corrections system is a key contributor. Illinois prisons cost taxpayers $1.4 billion in 2015, up $110 million since 2010.

One silver lining may be that the financial strain has prompted progress on the criminal justice reform front. Citing the huge dollars spent on corrections annually, Gov. Bruce Rauner formed a bipartisan commission to look at ways to reduce Illinois’ prison population by 25 percent by 2025. Commission members released a solid list of recommendations last month and have a report focusing on sentencing reform due out this summer.

But to bring prison spending down, lawmakers must pay just as much attention to what happens after prison as to the operations themselves — specifically, how barriers to work and employment so frequently land former offenders right back in the system.

Today, about 48 percent of the inmates released from an Illinois prison return within three years. Imagine the savings if this cycle were stopped.

It’s clear that the stigma of a criminal record is difficult to overcome when attempting to find work. National survey data suggest that as many as 60 percent to 75 percent of ex-offenders are unemployed a year after release from prison. Even with ban-the-box legislation active in Illinois, many employers still hesitate to give former offenders a chance. And, lacking legitimate work, many ex-offenders find themselves back on the wrong side of the law.

Even those unmoved to sympathy by the employment struggles of former offenders should recognize the crippling cost of maintaining the status quo. The Sentencing Policy Advisory Council estimates that each act of recidivism costs Illinois $118,746 — about $41,000 to taxpayers, around $57,000 in victimization costs, and about $20,000 in lost economic activity. The more former offenders find work, the more we shave criminal justice spending — and gain in a broadened tax base and contributing citizens.

read the full article at My Journal Courier

Criminal Justice Reform For The Skeptics

Though criminal justice reform is having a moment of increasing bipartisan support, not all conservatives are convinced. Those who lived through the high-crime eras of the ’70s and ’80s are unsure whether reducing sentences, even for low-level drug offenses, would be the wisest way to protect the largely declining crime rates the U.S. has enjoyed over the last 25 years.

But one critical fact about the criminal justice system should give even skeptics reason to support some reforms: 95 percent of inmates in our nation’s prisons eventually will be released. That’s more than 650,000 people each year who, if they can’t get jobs and become productive citizens, are far more likely to recidivate. Each one who commits a new crime represents not only a new public-safety threat, but also a steep cost to taxpayers as another corrections-system round kicks into gear. Even those who oppose sentencing reforms should see the financial and moral good in re-entry policies that enable former offenders to support themselves.

read the full article in The Daily Caller.

Criminal justice reform still has important work ahead

After decades of mass incarceration, criminal justice reform is finally garnering widespread support. During the most recent legislative session, positive steps were taken in Springfield to rein in juvenile transfers to adult courts, expand certificates of good conduct and reduce length of jail stays for nonviolent offenders in Cook County, among other changes.

A reform commission formed by Gov. Bruce Rauner has released promising recommendations to give judges more discretion in sentencing, divert low-level offenders, and enhance rehabilitative programing in prisons.

But while proponents of criminal justice reform in Illinois are off to a great start, there’s still plenty of work ahead. Illinois’ prisons remain overcrowded at nearly 143 percent capacity — among the highest rates in the country, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The Illinois Department of Corrections will cost taxpayers $1.4 billion in 2015 — to say nothing of the billions spent on police, courts and jail administration at all levels of government.

It took decades to build the system of mass incarceration Illinois has today — so it will also take time to right-size the state’s criminal justice system. But with smart policy and legislative changes, Illinois can achieve the goal of a lower crime rate, a lower incarceration rate and smarter spending on criminal justice while improving public safety.

To enact these reforms, lawmakers must focus on making sentences fit the crime, relieving budgets by using cost-effective alternatives to incarceration wherever possible, and removing barriers that keep former offenders out of work.

Read the full article at the Daily Herald.