Rauner’s Latest Executive Order Establishes Criminal Justice Reform Commission

Published February 12, 2015

Illinois needs to do a better job of ensuring criminals don’t reoffend, Gov. Bruce Rauner said Wednesday at the Sangamon County Courthouse.

“Illinois is in desperate need for criminal justice reform,” Rauner said noting that its prisons are overcrowded and the state is spending too much money on incarcerating people and not devoting enough effort toward rehabilitating them.

He used the occasion to sign an executive order creating a commission to recommend ways to overhaul the criminal justice system from arrest to incarceration to an inmate’s release into society.

The governor noted that 48 percent of adults and 54 percent of juveniles commit new crimes within three years of being released.

State Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillside, who used to work for the Department of Corrections, says the governor should pick from lawmakers for the commission, adding he would volunteer to be a part of it.

“We have a lot of people in the Legislature who come from a criminal justice background and bring a lot of different viewpoints,” he said.

Recidivism is a real problem in our society says Kevin Johnson, director of court services for Whiteside County.

Johnson, whose office oversees the probation, said Whiteside County launched a “drug court” last year geared toward sending fewer offenders to prison.

The judge collaborates with police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and others in the justice system to develop plans for offenders to avoid incarceration.

Those admitted to the program are regularly tested for drugs, routinely meet with the sentencing judge and are given rewards and punishments based positive or negative behaviors.

“If they had a good week, if they did everything they were supposed to do, the judge may offer for the audience to applaud. The judge may offer up an incentive like a candy bar or something bigger like a gift card.  … And then there are sanctions – if they test dirty. The judge may issue some sanction like two days in jail.”

Whether “drug courts” are part of Rauner’s proposed reforms remains to be seen.

But Rauner did say he is seeking evidence-based solutions within the criminal justice system.

The governor said he believes in “giving someone a second chance.”

Illinois prisons are at more than 150 percent of their ideal capacity.

“He’s trying to address the issue of safety in our prisons not only for staff but for inmates,” said State Rep. Don Moffitt, R-Gilson, who has the Hill Correctional Center in his district.

We know the current system isn’t working the way we would like it to so we should look to find a way for it to work better,” Moffitt said.

“If people are spending time in jail or prison and not coming out any better than they came in than we are just churning and that’s not helping anyone,” said Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago.

The commission is scheduled to issue a report July 1 but the governor said he could act faster if data emerges that points to solutions.

Scott Reeder ([email protected]) is the Executive Editor of the Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute. Greg Bishop ([email protected]) is a reporter for the Illinois News Network. An an earlier version of this article first appeared at http://www.ilnews.org/4020/gov-rauner-latest-executive-order-establishes-criminal-justice-reform-commission/. Reprinted with permission.