Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform

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Governor Bruce Rauner has vetoed legislation intended to prevent wrongful convictions.

Matt Jones, Peter Baroni, Jehan Gordon-Booth
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

As Chicago confronts an increasing murder rate, the Illinois legislature is trying to take on the root causes of violence in some of the state's most traumatized communities.

Could the Republican nominee's emphasis on "law and order" derail a growing bipartisan consensus on crime and punishment?

John Bradley soft on crime ad
screen capture / Friends of John Bradley

In an era of political gridlock, one of the few topics on which there's been hope of bipartisan cooperation is on the issues of crime and punishment.

Politicians have traditionally been averse to doing anything that could get them painted as being "soft on crime."

It's an easy attack, and one that's been frequently deployed in the past. But this year, criminal justice reform advocates are fighting back.

Trump and Rauner
Trump by Michael Vadon / Flickr, Rauner by Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Could a campaign emphasis on "law and order" derail the emerging bipartisan consensus on crime and punishment?

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Soon after taking office, Gov. Bruce Rauner set a goal of  cutting Illinois' prison population by a quarter over the next decade. But the current budget crisis has cut off funding for programs that could be key to meeting his target.  

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Gov. Bruce Rauner has lately been critical of efforts to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, saying it’s not “what matters” in Illinois government. Our reporter has been closely following the governor’s overall efforts to improve Illinois’ criminal justice system, and was struck by Rauner’s comments on pot. So he decided to talk to someone who can explain how decriminalization fits into that broader effort.

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In January, the Illinois prison population was down by more than 2,500 inmates over a year earlier. But that’s still a long way off from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s goal of cutting the population by 12,000 prisoners over the next decade.

The commission he appointed to make that happen is still figuring out how to meet his goal, and met Monday in Chicago to continue deliberations.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey / WUIS

Even as Governor Bruce Rauner announced his first steps toward criminal justice reform Wednesday, a police group says the lack of a state budget is making Illinois a more dangerous place to live.

Rauner touted proposals that would begin to inch toward his goal of reducing Illinois’ prison population by 25 percent over the next decade.

“Today is an important, very positive step forward," Rauner said, flanked by a bipartisan group of legislators.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey / WUIS

Gov. Bruce Rauner endorsed the work of his criminal justice commission Thursday. He also made an unusual statement on prisons.

Commissioners are still working to reach Rauner’s goal of reducing Illinois' inmate population by 12,000 men and women over the next decade. They have delivered their first set of recommendations, and Rauner told commissioners he was excited about the report, calling it "excellent."

"What I can guarantee you: I will work tirelessly to make sure this isn't just something that just gathers dust," he said. "I’m going to implement this."

Chicago's million-dollar blocks
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State of the State Podcast:
A New Way To Think About 'High-Crime' Neighborhoods

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey / WUIS

Most experts say the governor’s target of a 25 percent reduction in the state's prison population can't be met by simply backing off the war on drugs. Instead, policymakers will have to look beyond the "nons” — nonviolent, nonserious and nonsexual offenders — and in so doing, challenge entrenched attitudes about crime and justice. 

Illinois could finally reckon with its dramatically overcrowded prisons in 2016.

The entire system is at 146 percent of the capacity it was designed to hold, but that number doesn’t tell the whole story. Some individual prisons — such as East Moline, Illinois River and Lincoln — are above 200 percent of the rated capacity.

Rodger Heaton
Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

On episode 16 of the State of the State podcast, a commission working on an overhaul of Illinois’ criminal justice system has approved its first set of recommendations.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

Illinois lawmakers were not able to reach an agreement on the state’s budget in the spring session. However, both chambers managed to approve a number of bills that could make it easier for those with criminal records to secure jobs or at least get a foot in the door.

Las Vegas in the 1970s
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The politics of "tough on crime" were born of a culture of fear in the 1960s and '70s. In Illinois, that was exemplified by the public statements of then-Gov. Dan Walker, who both described aspects of Illinois prisons that are still problems today, while at the same time arguing for policies that would leave Illinois’ criminal justice drastically overcrowded.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois struggles with its prison population in part because of its political culture. For decade, policymakers enacted greater and greater penalties for lesser and lesser crimes.

Will Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has convened a new commission to reduce Illinois' prison population, have the political courage to follow through on recommendations that may well come back to bite him in future campaigns? Commission member and Loyola University criminologist David Olson joins me to talk about what it'll take.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

A task force meant to overhaul Illinois’ criminal justice system is meeting for the first time Thursday in Springfield.

Gov. Bruce Rauner briefly addressed the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, which he created last month by executive order, setting out an ambitious goal for emptying Illinois prisons.