Watchdog: Gov Faces Challenge With Prison Population

the now-shuttered Dwight Correctional Center

The Dwight Correctional Center, which Governor Pat Quinn closed in 2013

(Jeff Bossert/WILL)

Illinois prisons are handling about 17,000 more inmates then they were built for. A watchdog group says the state is at a turning point, and needs leadership from whoever is sworn in as governor in 2015.

The state spent the 1980s and ‘90s putting more and more people in prison and for longer and longer sentences.

The non-partisan John Howard Association, however, said research shows that’s not really effective at lowering crime.

“We have the largest prison population in all the world," said Association Director John Maki.  "We spend more money on corrections than any other country. And we’re finally waking up to the reality (that) this is really bad policy. But we simply can’t just turn it off. It took 40 years to build this system. It can’t be undone in one year.”

Maki said decades of “tough on crime” policies have led Illinois to lock up 49-thousand people in a system designed to hold 32,000.  He said unless Illinois starts getting that under control, a lawsuit could force the state to release prisoners, like happened in California.

Some of the changes he’s recommending include reducing penalties for non-violent drug offenses, giving inmates more ways to earn time off their sentences, and giving judges more discretion over what are currently mandatory prison terms.

Maki says the problem cannot be solved without the leadership of whoever is governor next year.

Story source: Illinois Public Radio