Brian's Column 02-05-2016

Hello February (and one more day closer to Spring)!  It seems like January was here and went all too fast.  February is an important month in Illinois State politics because it usually marks the end of the new bill introduction period in the House of Representatives.

The deadline for new legislation this year is February 11, 2016.  I want to reiterate my gratitude for everyone across the 89th District who has called, written, attended town hall meetings or any of the legislative luncheons from last year.  I firmly believe that people with practical experience and firsthand knowledge are the best resource for removing cumbersome regulations in Illinois. Your input has helped to shape the legislative agenda for the 89th District, and I appreciate your willingness to provide such critical feedback.

This week, I’d like to present the outcome of a comprehensive criminal justice reform package, of which I will introduce legislation stemming from these recommendations.  Last year, I was appointed to Governor Rauner’s Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform and I had the pleasure of serving with some of the brightest minds in criminal and civil justice today.  Our charge was to deliver a comprehensive criminal justice reform package that overhauls the way Illinois thinks about the Department of Corrections by safely reducing the State’s prison population by 25 percent by 2025.

Many of you know my previous career was spent in law enforcement with the Stephenson County Sheriff’s Department.  Yes, it was a different time, but with Chicago at a 16-year high for shootings & murders and the too-frequent national law-enforcement scandals deteriorating public trust, I know well the dangers facing our police officers today.  Remember every public contact has the potential to have negative consequences for someone that protects and serves their community.

That’s not to say there isn’t room for reform, or even room to recognize we’ve made mistakes in the past.  Overzealous lawmakers responded to spikes in crime in the late 1970’s by increasing the penalties of all crimes, but also increasing the number of crimes for which you could be incarcerated.  There seemed to be an apprehension for not wanting to appear “weak on crime.” I’m here to tell you: I’m not weak on crime; I’m former law enforcement. A criminal is a criminal to me, but there is a lot of room for sensible reform within the Illinois Criminal Justice System.   
The recommendations set forth thus far are:

“Recommendations to Ensure the Validity of Sentencing and Programming

1. Expedite the use of risk-and-needs assessment tools by the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Prisoner Review Board. Promote and expedite the use of risk and needs assessment tools by Illinois Circuit courts in determining sentences in felony cases. IDOC should continue to implement the elements of the Crime Reduction Act of 2009. Support the expanded application of risk and needs assessment within probation departments.

2. Provide incentives and support the establishment of local criminal Justice Coordinating Councils to develop strategic plans to address crime and corrections policy.

3. Improve and expand data collection, integration, and sharing. Support the establishment of the Illinois Data Exchange Coordinating council (IDECC) to facilitate an information-sharing environment among state and local units of government.

4. Require all state agencies that provide funding for criminal justice programs to evaluate those programs. Agencies should eliminate those programs for which there is insufficient evidence of effectiveness and expand those that are proven effective. Ensure that programming appropriately targets and prioritizes offenders with high risk and high needs.

Recommendations to Reduce the Number of Prison Admissions

5. Prevent the use of prisons for felons with short lengths of stay. IDOC should be authorized and encouraged to use existing alternatives to imprisonment for individuals with projected lengths of stay of less than 12 months. IDOC should be required to report its use of alternatives to imprisonment for these individuals in its Annual Report.

6. Give judges the discretion to determine whether probation may be appropriate for the following offenses:

a. Residential burglary;
b. Class 2 felonies (second or subsequent); and
c. Drug law violations.

7. Before an offender is sentenced to prison for a Class 3 or 4 felony, require that a judge explain at sentencing why incarceration is an appropriate sentence when:

a. The offender has no prior probation sentences, or
b. The offender has no prior convictions for a violent crime.

Recommendations to Reduce the Length of Prison Stays

8. Expand eligibility for programming credits. All inmates should be eligible to earn programming credits for successfully completing rehabilitative programming, with the exception of credits that would reduce a sentence below Truth-in-Sentencing limits.

9. Make better use of Adult Transition Centers. Ensure that the use of Adult Transition Centers is informed by the risk-and-needs research and evidence, which shows that residential transitional facilities, paired with appropriate programming, should be primarily reserved for high and medium risk offenders to obtain the greatest public safety benefit.

10. Develop a protocol to provide for the placement to home confinement or a medical facility for terminally ill or severely incapacitated inmates, excluding those sentenced to natural life. The determination of illness or severe incapacity is to be made by the Illinois Department of Corrections Medical Director.

11. Improve and expand the use of electronic monitoring technology based on risk, need, and responsivity principles.

a. The Illinois Department of Corrections should increase the use of electronic detention in lieu of imprisonment for both short-term inmates and inmates who are ready to be transitioned out of secure custody.

b. Allow IDOC to use electronic monitoring for up to 30 days without Prisoner Review Board approval as a graduated sanction for those on Mandatory Supervised Release.

c. Ensure that Prisoner Review Board orders requiring electronic monitoring are based on risk assessments.

d. Encourage and support the use of electronic monitoring within local jurisdictions as an alternative to incarceration and pre-trial detention.

Recommendations to Reduce Recidivism by Increasing the Chances of Successful Reentry

12. Enhance rehabilitative programming in IDOC. Implement or expand evidence-based programming that targets criminogenic need, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy and substance abuse treatment. Prioritize access to programming to high-risk offenders. Evaluate those programs identified as promising and eliminate ineffective programs.

13. Remove unnecessary barriers to those convicted of crimes from obtaining professional licenses. Review all licensure restrictions to identify those necessary for public safety.

14. Require IDOC and the Secretary of State to ensure inmates have a state identification card upon release at no cost to the inmates, when their release plan contemplates Illinois residence. IDOC must report in its Annual Report the percentage of offenders released from custody without a valid official State Identification Card or some other valid form of identification.

Though we must reform our criminal justice system in Illinois it brings to mind a quote from President Ronald Reagan, “We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”