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Author Topic: 4 Criminal Justice Reforms Pending In Illinois  (Read 11945 times)

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Offline Forevermah

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4 Criminal Justice Reforms Pending In Illinois
« on: June 27, 2015, 08:12:26 AM »
4 Criminal Justice Reforms Pending In Illinois

This story is part of the Transform Monthly section on criminal re-entry programs in the Rockford area. Read more at rrstar.com/news/transform-rockford and in Sunday's special section.

By Kevin Haas
Rockford Register Star

Posted Jun. 26, 2015 at 8:00 AM

    ROCKFORD — Gov. Bruce Rauner entered office with prison reform as a top priority.

    About a month after being sworn into office, he issued an executive order creating the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform with a goal of reducing the state's prison population by 25 percent by 2025.

    Imprisonment is the state's most expensive form of criminal punishment, with taxpayers spending $1.3 billion on the Department of Corrections and $131 million on the Department of Juvenile Justice each year. And the state's prison population has increased about 700 percent despite a 20 percent drop in crime rates over the past 40 years, according to the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council and the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

    Rauner's commission is scheduled to present its recommendations for cutting the prison population, reducing recidivism and saving money on criminal justice by July 1. A final report is due to Rauner and the General Assembly by Dec. 31. In the meantime, several reforms aimed at lowering the prison population and reducing recidivism have moved through the General Assembly this year and await Rauner's signature. Here are four areas in which reforms could become law this year.

    1. Criminal records and jobs

    Lawmakers want to offer a second chance to people with a criminal record that stands in the way of a job.

    Both state legislative chambers passed a bill sponsored by Rep. John Cabello, R-Machesney Park, that would allow nonviolent felony offenders to shield their criminal records from potential employers if they earn a high school diploma, associate's degree, career certificate, vocational technical certification or bachelor's degree or pass the GED test while serving time or while on mandatory supervised release

    The goal, Cabello said, is to give offenders who truly want to change their lives a chance to do so. But they first must demonstrate initiative by taking advantage of educational opportunities while serving their sentences.

    "Too often people are not being hired because they are a felon," Cabello said. "This way, they can hopefully get back into society after paying their debt. They can become a productive member of society and stop that recidivism."

    Under the legislation, an offender would ask for the record to be sealed. Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors would have the opportunity to object. A judge would then decide whether the offender qualifies and has completed the necessary requirements for the record to be sealed. You can't participate if you're convicted of an additional crime and sent to prison.

    "Some people are saying that might be soft on crime. I say false — I say that we're trying to be smart on crime," Cabello said.

        Other lawmakers are urging the Rauner commission to study ways to seal records in order to help convicted felons obtain jobs without fighting the stigma of a criminal record.

        Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, sponsored a resolution that asks the commission to consider sealing records of convicted felons after certain qualifications are met. Too often, she said, a felony record is a life sentence, especially for African American men, who can't find work because many employers aren't willing to hire ex-offenders.

        "The judge sentenced them to a time certain. They served their time. Now let's move on," Flowers said.

        Denying ex-offenders a job only "guarantees that someone else will be harmed" because with no other opportunity to take care of themselves or their families they're likely to turn back to crime, Flowers said.

        One bill that passed both chambers this year, but awaits the governor's signature, would allow records to be sealed after two years, rather than three, for charges that resulted in orders of supervision, including municipal violations. It also says that certain Class 4 felonies and first-time offender dispositions could be sealed after three years.

        2. Pot decriminalization

        Illinois legislators are pushing to decriminalize marijuana. Both houses passed a bill with bipartisan support that would treat possession of marijuana more like a speeding ticket than a criminal offense. It awaits Rauner's signature, although he hasn't indicated what he will do.

        A bill sponsored by Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, would make possession of less than 15 grams of cannabis a petty offense subject to a $125 fine. It also would establish a protocol for determining when a motorist is driving under the influence of marijuana. Those ticketed for low-level possession would be eligible to have their records expunged after six months. Claiming the bill is soft on crime, opponents said it would put Illinois a step closer to marijuana legalization.

        Low-level marijuana offenses take up "police time, court time, prosecutor time and in many cases public defender time going into cases that do nothing to make our community safer," Cassidy said. "Being able to redirect all of those resources toward crimes that really are impacting our public safety is incredibly important."

        She also wants to end the racial disparity in marijuana enforcement, saying that "usage rates don't vary by race; it's only arrest rates that do." She said were many local jurisdictions in Illinois that have marijuana ticketing ordinances, some dating to the 1960s. "It really depends completely on where you live and what you look like whether you're going to go to jail for a low-level possession case or get a ticket."

       The legislation aligns with Rauner's goal of saving money and reducing the prison population, Cassidy said. It is expected to save the state nearly $30 million over the first 10 years if it becomes law, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections. That figure doesn't include local savings for municipal police departments or county criminal justice systems.

        3. Second chance to work in schools

        Job prospects could open up for certain nonviolent felons if a bill is signed into law removing a lifetime ban on employment in schools.

        The legislation, also sponsored by Cassidy, would allow some felons to be eligible to work in schools. Schools would not be required to hire, however. The bill, which passed both Houses and awaits Rauner's approval, would allow former offenders who have served time for crimes such as shoplifting or low-level drug possession to work or volunteer at schools after a waiting period that varies depending on the offense.

        "The greatest indicator of success post-imprisonment is a job," Cassidy said. "It really just is a common sense change that moves us away from many, many years of very retribution-based policies to a more thoughtful criminal justice policy."

        Cassidy said the bill is not just for teachers or people who work with children, noting that a constituent of hers used to drive a truck for a delivery company until it got a contract with a public school district. "She was fired that day because she couldn't deliver milk to a school because of her prior drug conviction."

        4. Juvenile justice reforms

        Even the most serious crimes committed by offenders younger than 18 could not result in a mandatory sentence of life without parole, under a bill approved by both houses this year.

        The legislation would eliminate mandatory life sentences for offenders younger than 18 and require judges to consider specific age-related factors when determining a sentence. It also would give judges more choices when sentencing juveniles who are transferred to adult court.

        House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, one of the bill's sponsors, said the bill was a response to the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in 2012 in the case of Miller vs. Alabama, which said states can't sentence juvenile murderers to mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole. It was the third year of trying to get the law passed in Illinois.

        "The Miller opinion recognizes that people under this age are very unlikely to possess the reasoned minds and the maturity to avoid very bad situations," Currie said. "It would be hard for a judge to say this 17-year-old is totally mature and yet did A, B and C."

 The legislation would put in place sentencing standards to "have factors that should be considered by every courtroom across the state, rather than have a hodgepodge of sentencing decisions following Miller," Currie said.

        Other juvenile justice reforms that passed both Houses and await the governor's signature include a bill that would keep children under the age of 13 out of juvenile detention and another that would end automatic transfers of juveniles to adult prisons. An additional bill would prohibit juveniles from being sent to state juvenile prisons for misdemeanors. The goal of the latter is to keep juveniles who commit low-level crimes out of prisons, where they often advance to more serious crimes after incarceration.

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