CHICAGO — The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today urged an Illinois Commission to make smarter choices about criminal justice policy for the State, starting with dismantling "policies that have proven ineffective or even counter-productive." In testimony before the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, ACLU Criminal Justice Policy Attorney Benjamin Ruddell will tell the group that the goal of reducing incarceration in Illinois — a goal articulated by Governor Bruce Rauner — is attainable.
But the ACLU testimony makes clear that the goal is attainable only through "bold solutions."
Building on a recent ( interim ) report of the Commission, the ACLU is proposing a series of specific proposals that will not only reduce the number of persons incarcerated in Illinois, but also free up resources that can be re-invested into community-based programs that will make neighborhoods stronger.
The first specific policy endorsed by the ACLU would reclassify 1 gram or less of controlled substances or methamphetamines as a Class A misdemeanor. An analysis by the Sentencing Policy Advisory Council ( SPAC ) found that if this policy would have been in effect for the past three years, the State of Illinois would have saved more than $57 million in costs associated with those arrested for drug possession. This policy change, according to the ACLU, has the potential to reduce new admissions to Illinois prisons by approximately 1,800 to 1,900.
This simple policy change — which has been endorsed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — would save real money for the state and help hundreds of individuals avoid prison time.
The ACLU also is urging the Commission to reclassify Class X felony drug offenses as Class 1 felonies. The ACLU will tell the Commission that reclassifying Class X drug offenses will significantly decrease lengthy prison sentences being handed out to drug offenders, and would reduce Illinois' prison population by 600 inmates annually.
The ACLU also is urging the Commission to repeal mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenders and take other steps to alleviate extreme sentences. Currently, Illinois law mandates long sentences for nonviolent offenses for residential burglary and driving on a suspended license ( when the license was lost due to DUI ), or for a second or subsequent drug conviction.
In addition to these proposals, the ACLU also recommends that the State should expand the availability of sentence credits for participating in programming, and that limits on sentence credit for good behavior should be rolled back.
The ACLU also will tell the Commission that they must address the issue of sex offenders in Illinois, including the nearly 1,000 individuals in Illinois prisons who should have been released by now, but have not because they are unable to find housing that complies with the labyrinth of existing restrictions. And, the ACLU will urge the Commission to look at the damaging impact of the use of solitary confinement, urging the State to consider limits on long-term isolation being adopted in other jurisdictions.
"If we move away from fear-based policy making to fact-based approaches in this area, Illinois can reduce its prison population and we can make our communities safer at the same time," said the ACLU's Ruddell.