This post was written by Right on Crime research associate Jace Waechter.
On Tuesday, the Illinois Senate passed a bill giving judges more sentencing alternatives for non-violent offenders and began the process of providing more funding for trauma recovery services for victims of violent crimes. This bipartisan bill previously passed the House, and is now on its way to the Governor Bruce Rauner for his signature.
These latest policy changes were just two of many recommendations posited by the state’s Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform (CJSR), which was established by Rauner through executive order almost a year ago and was tasked with finding potential policy solutions to address the state’s inefficient criminal justice system.
Trauma recovery services for victims in underserved communities with higher levels of crime was among the first of the recommendations to be acted on in this new bill. According to the report, enhancing such rehabilitative service capacity in the community before implementing potential sentencing reforms is key to Illinois’ ability to safely and responsibly reduce the prison population and sustain that reduction over time. To that end, victims generally favor rehabilitation rather than harsher sentences, but only if the rehabilitation the offender receives will be effective. As the Commission highlights, reassuring the community that such offender interventions will emphasize “access to meaningful levels of services, stable housing, and work force development programs” upon release is a critical element to engender public confidence.
Another major provision within the bill gives judges more control over sentencing. Since 2015, the committee has called for changes in mandatory minimum sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenses. The commission does not recommend restricting a judge’s sentencing authority, and this new bill allows the courts to remain free to impose a tailored prison sentence for certain crimes, when appropriate. However, as the Commission explains, when the circumstances are such that probation is the appropriate disposition, that choice should be available to the judge as well.
The bill is part of Gov. Rauner’s plan to reduce the state’s prison population while enhancing public safety. “This report is another important step in repairing our broken criminal justice system and safely reducing the prison population,” Rauner said in a statement. “While our work is not over in achieving this goal, we have made significant achievements in changing the system.”