In a new Huffington Post column yesterday, Hilary Gowins points out that Illinois has been lagging behind other states recently in its inability to roll back a stubbornly high recidivism rate. With nearly 50% ending up back to prison within 3 years, she points to one program instituted by Texas in 1998 that emphasizes providing victim restitution in lieu of incarceration:

In Texas, the Bridges to Life restorative-justice program has been in operation since 1998. Under programs like Bridges to Life, if the person found guilty of a nonviolent property crime and the victim of that crime agree, the two parties enter mediation to work out terms that allow the guilty party to repay the victim in lieu of serving jail time. Victims, who often take a back seat in the design of punishment-focused criminal-justice policies, report greater levels of satisfaction under such restorative-justice programs, according to research from Right on Crime.

Gowins goes to cite a recent report from the Illinois Policy Institute, co-authored by Right on Crime’s Derek Cohen and Dianna Muldrow, that states if Illinois were to adopt a similar program for a subset of its property offenders, the state could save an initial $780,500 in incarceration costs–and potentially millions later on if the trial program proved successful and was expanded.

In addition to these savings, such a program would also go a long way towards making victims whole, and could start reducing Illinois’ high recidivism rate. With state spending on corrections at a historical high, Illinois should, as Gowins states, “seize every such reasonable opportunity to reduce its prison costs.” Victim restitution programs are one way to do that.

The entirety of the Illinois Policy Institute’s report, which investigates first steps to reducing corrections spending, easing offender re-entry, and enhancing public safety, can be found here.