News Local/State

Final Report Due Soon From Governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Panel


The Illinois Supreme Court building in Springfield, as pictured in a vintage postcard. Illinois Supreme Court

Any day now, Governor Bruce Rauner's criminal justice reform commission is expected to release its final set of recommendations. It's trying to figure out how to safely reduce Illinois' prison population by 25 percent over the next decade. The commission came out with Part One of its final report in December of 2015 --- a relatively easy set of recommendations. This round of ideas could be more politically difficult.

For example: reducing so-called drug-free zones around schools, parks and churches from a thousand feet to 500 feet.

Commissioner Elena Quintana, a social justice advocate, says there's a lot of research showing those policies don’t keep kids safer. Instead, she says, they just end up over-criminalizing poor black and Latino communities.

"And yet, people are afraid of how it would look in the Tribune or something if they say, 'Commission chooses not to protect schools,'" said Quintana.

Quintana says the key to reducing prison populations is greater investment in communities, not in the criminal justice system.

The commission’s final report is also expected to include a call for lower sentences for certain crimes and more discretion for judges.

But the commission decided that other issues, like the concept of reducing prison sentences for gun crimes, were too politically sensitive to address.

Commissioner Brendan Kelly is the state's attorney of St. Clair County, which includes East St. Louis.

“When you're talking about changes to law that may reduce the sentences for violent offenses, we have to tread very, very lightly, and be cognizant of the concerns that people have about the violence that's impacting their community”, said Kelly.

The commission's report will come as Chicago is under national scrutiny for having 762 murders in 2016 — more than New York and Los Angeles combined.

It also comes as president-elect Donald Trump has made “getting tough on crime” a centerpiece of his winning campaign.