Problems: In 2012, Illinois reached its all-time high prison population at 49,348. The state found that it had at least 10 inmates at a time that were in for ordinance violations, which is the lowest form of criminal conduct. Inmates who were unable to pay a $100 fine were unable to get out on bail and therefore sat for months in the facilities waiting on their case to be heard. These people took up valuable space in the prison facilities and contributed to overcrowding. At this time, many looked to Texas’s 1998 criminal justice program which called for mediation in regards to non-violent property crime. If Illinois were to adopt a similar program the estimated savings would be a minimum of $780,500. This would increase savings, decrease prison population, and decrease recidivism.
Solution: Former county sheriff Mike Emery, began the practice of judges and decision makers when his jail was near capacity. The rest of the state adopted this practice On January 20, 2017, Illinois passed a new criminal justice bill-HB 3355. This bill gave judges more control over the sentencing of non-violent offenders, and greater freedom from mandatory minimums.
Results: Notifying judges regarding the status of a jail’s population saw a decrease in low-level felony and misdemeanors in the facilities of 30%. By providing judges with freedom from mandatory minimums, they are able to create a punishment that better fits the crime. This will in turn create more room within prisons by cutting down on the number of non-violent offenders within the facility. Multiple states have adopted similar reforms and have seen a great reduction in prison population. The greatest example of this is Texas.
Recent Updates: The state of Illinois recently signed into law HB1958. This is an act that applies specifically to pregnant incarcerated inmates. Its main purpose is to restrict the use of restraints on pregnant inmates. These restraints harm the mother and the baby, and Illinois has therefore made an excellent decision in restricting their use.