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Governor makes appointments to new prison reform commission

Governor Bruce Rauner made headlines last month when he declared his intention to form a new commission tasked with both examining Illinois' criminal justice system and devising ways to reform its prison system, which he described as "costly, overcrowded and ineffective."

In recent developments, Rauner has now announced the names of the people he selected for the state's new Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, with the 28 appointments comprised of not just lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, but also experts from law enforcement agencies, nonprofit advocacy groups and academic circles. 

The formation of the commission comes at a time when Illinois' prison system, which is designed to accommodate 32,000 inmates, has a population approaching roughly 48,000, and roughly half of all prison parolees end up back behind bars within three years of their release.  

"We need to reform the system to stop the costly and vicious cycle of recidivism and help those who've left prison get the help they need to become productive members of society," said Rauner.

Indeed, one of Rauner's stated objectives for the commission is to devise ways in which the state can lower its prison population by as much as 25 percent over the course of the next decade.

In order to accomplish this task, the commission, headed by state Public Safety Director Rodger Heaton, will conduct a comprehensive analysis of the state's criminal justice system starting from the time of the initial arrest all the way to release back into society.

Some of the ideas already being advanced by commission members for introducing meaningful reform to the state's criminal justice system include utilizing alternatives to prison sentences, such as community service, more often, and shifting resources such that more money is going to cover addiction treatment, parole/probation monitoring services, juvenile programs, mental health treatment and reintroduction programs for ex-convicts.

While it's certainly encouraging to see these progressive ideas being actively considered as solutions to a critical problem, we'll have to wait until July for the commission's report.

Source: The Belleville News-Democrat, "Rauner appoints Kelly to commission aimed at reducing prison population," Brian Brueggemann, March 4, 2015

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