The head of the state’s prison system wants to make Illinois a national model for reform even as the system has struggled to provide proper medical care for inmates.
Prison reform was the subject of a joint hearing of the Senate Criminal law and Public Safety committees on Tuesday.
The meeting was a subject matter only hearing and was just for informational purposes.
Rob Jeffrey, the acting director of the Department of Corrections, said Illinois is leading the way in prison reforms.
“We are focused on implementing new reforms that will end the cycle of incarceration for thousands of families, and put Illinois corrections on a path of becoming a national model,” Jeffreys said.
Phil Whittington, a corrections policy analyst with the John Howard Association, an independent prison monitoring group, disagreed with that assessment.
“The majority of prisoners in IDOC continue to be temporarily warehoused in aging, dilapidated prisons unable to access the evidence-based programming required for their rehabilitation,” Whittington said.
More than 38,000 people were incarcerated in Illinois prisons in 2019. That is down from 45,000 in 2013.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently announced seven “guiding principals” to what he said will build a more equitable criminal justice system.
One of the guidelines would reduce the length of time spent by offenders in prison and offer more opportunities for rehabilitation. This would increase access to credit for time-served and time-limited supervised release. Truth in sentencing laws require convicted criminals to serve a vast majority of their sentence regardless of good behavior.
IDOC officials blame the transfer of prisoners to state facilities for COVID-19 cases in state prisons. Jeffreys said officials are tackling the spread by releasing some prisoners.
“Part of our COVID response we are prioritizing our reviews for earned discretionary sentence credit, our medical furloughs, electronic detention eligibility to increase the availability of space for quarantine and isolating the population in accordance with CDC guidelines,” Jeffreys said.
Whittington said the coronavirus outbreak in prisons affects communities.
“We should not view COVID-19 in prisons as an isolated subject, but rather we need to recognize the prison settings are connected to and embedded in the greater statewide community,” Whittington said.
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