While there were some major criminal justice reform measures passed and signed into law for the new year, an independent corrections monitor says much more needs to be done to lower the state’s prison population.
Gov. Bruce Rauner set a goal when he took office in 2015 to decrease the state’s prison population by 25 percent by 2025. Some movement has been made in that direction, but criminal justice reform advocates say there’s a lot of work to do.
John Howard Association Executive Director Jennifer Vollen-Katz said a couple of measures allowing former offenders to get professional licenses is a good start.
“We all know that getting a job is one of the biggest indicators on getting somebody to succeed upon release from prison,” Vollen-Katz said.
But she said the number that’s impacting is small and lawmakers are merely nibbling around the edges with other reforms. And there are instances Vollen-Katz says the state is going in the other direction.
“There was the bill that passed that increased enhancement for people who are convicted of a weapons offense for the second time,” she said. “That was a step in the wrong direction in terms of changing our sentencing structure.”
To address the state’s sentencing structure, Vollen-Katz said “give judges discretion in deciding sentences so that we can consider all the factors in making sure that the people that need to be put away longer are, and the people that don’t, and there are many more of them, are not.”
Meaningful criminal justice reform is hot political potatoes, so many lawmakers are apprehensive to address it, she said.
Vollen-Katz also said much more needs to be done to address the conditions inside Illinois prisons for those suffering from mental illness.
“The circumstances they live under are inhumane and unacceptable,” she said.
Here are some of the laws impacting crime and punishment that are set to take effect Jan. 1:
- Mental Fitness Report to the Courts (SB 1276/PA 100-0424): Reports about individuals adjudicated not guilty by reason of insanity will be made every 90 days to reduce administrative burden and focus resources in other areas.
- Inmate Training Dogs for PTSD Veterans (HB 2897/PA 100-0384): Illinois Department of Corrections inmates can be taught to help train service dogs to help veterans with post traumatic stress disorder.
- CJIA Inventory (HB 3879/PA 100-0307): The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority can take inventory of what law enforcement agencies, county sheriff offices, and court systems are using predominantly paper systems.
- Juvenile Expungement Expansion (HB 3817/PA 100-0285): Two years after a juvenile delinquency case is closed the record is automatically expunged. Homicides, felony sex offenses, certain bodily harm offenses, forcible felonies other than burglary and weapons offenses are excluded from expungement.
- Immediate Sealing of Records (HB 514/PA 100-0282): Records from individuals who are acquitted or a case is dismissed with prejudice may be sealed immediately after the case is disposed.
- DOC content controlled tablets (HB3712/PA 100-0198): Corrections officers shall provide inmates with content controlled computer tablets to be used for educational and visitation opportunities.
- Restorative Justice Training for DJJ Personnel (HB 3165/PA 100-0157): Department of Juvenile Justice personnel are required to undergo training focused on having a victim, offender and community explore restitution.
- Unfit to Stand Trial Placement (HB 649/100-0027): Inmates who are unfit to stand trial are to be transferred from county jails to Department of Human Services mental health facilities within 20 days.
- Bail Reform Act of 2017 and State RICO Extension (SB 2034/PA 100-0001): Alleged offenders have a right to counsel at a bail hearing. It also extends Illinois’ RICO Act another five years and expands existing laws regarding threats to public officials.
Article by Greg Bishop. For more Illinois News Network content, visit ILNews.org
Report: Gov. J.B. Pritzker under federal criminal investigation
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, his wife First Lady M.K. Pritzker, and others are under federal criminal investigation for a dubious residential property tax appeal that critics highlighted in last year’s gubernatorial race.
WBEZ first reported the federal probe, citing information from a law-enforcement source familiar with the investigation.
Pritzker’s attorney denied any wrongdoing.
“Neither the Governor nor the First Lady have been contacted by law enforcement regarding the property tax appeal,” Attorney Marc Elias said in an email to Illinois News Network. “We are confident that any further review of the matter will show that the appropriate rules were followed.”
Pritzker, whose net worth is estimated at $3.2 billion, paid back the more than $330,000 he got in tax breaks for removing the toilets to have a mansion he bought deemed uninhabitable. He paid back the money in October, days after a leaked report from a Cook County watchdog surfaced. A Cook County inspector general report about the 2015 tax break called it a “scheme to defraud” taxpayers.
Political opponents pounced on news of the federal probe.
“Gov. Pritzker should immediately abandon his push for this massive jobs tax on middle-class families because he can’t expect people to pay more when he is reportedly under criminal investigation for gaming the system to pay less,” Ideas Illinois Chairman Greg Baise said.
Ideas Illinois has been opposing the governor’s proposed progressive income tax.
“The governor likes to call his push for more taxes ‘fair’ but it’s clear he knows nothing about fairness or equity – he needs to drop his push for this Jobs Tax that will only hurt middle-class families even further,” Baise said.
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider compared Pritzker’s decision to pay back the $331,000 to a bank robber returning stolen money after getting caught.
“Just because he gave the money back means nothing to me,” Schneider said in an interview. “He schemed to defraud the taxpayers of the county. He technically took money out the school system, to pay for our cops, to further burden other taxpayers because he didn’t pay his fair share.”
Schneider also said he was glad the investigation was being looked at by federal officials.
“I’ve seen silence on the part of the Cook County State’s Attorney,” Schneider said of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. “I think she botched the Jussie Smollett case and we don’t even know if she’s investigating this on the Cook County level and I’m grateful that the feds have picked up the batton on this case.”
Pritzker could be asked to comment on the story when he is in front of reporters later this morning.
WBEZ reported that it wasn’t clear if any criminal charges were imminent; it also reported that “the scope and intensity of the federal investigation is not entirely clear.”
Article by Greg Bishop with Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org
Springfield Police tell residents: lock your cars
Springfield is dealing with a city-wide issue of cars being broken into. From the 13th to the 16th, 35 cars were broken into. These incidents happened all over the city. Chief Winslow was asked to discuss this situation at last night’s city council meeting.
Winslow had a very simple message for Springfield residents: lock your cars. Although some of the incidents did involve breaking a car’s window, the overwhelming majority did not. 30 of the 35 break-ins were to unlocked vehicles. Thieves were simply checking the handles of cars to find ones that were unlocked. This is not to excuse the criminal activity, but locking your doors is a key step for your protection.
He went on to say that valuables should not be stored in vehicles; and if they must be, they should be out of sight. If thieves do not see anything worth stealing, they will be much less likely to break in. In addition to items like phones and GPS units, garage door openers are items that are often stolen. Once a thief has the garage door opener, the home becomes vulnerable to burglary as well.
The police are still working to catch those individuals responsible for the break-ins. Five individuals have been arrested, but it is believed that there are many more still out there. Suspects include both juveniles and adults. If you see something suspicious, call the dispatch number 217-788-8311. Don’t call your local police officer in these situations; they may not be on duty and so will not answer right away. If you have other information, especially pictures or video, share it with the police. Just putting it on social media will not ensure the police get access to it.
Take the time to make sure your doors are locked. This is a city-wide issue, and it will take a city-wide effort to deal with it.