The Illinois justice system has grown increasingly punitive, leading to more prison admissions, longer sentences and skyrocketing spending. Half of Illinois’ returning citizens recidivate, and 97% are set to be released into the most vulnerable and impoverished communities in the state.

Since 1982, the number of incarcerated people in Illinois has more than tripled. Illinos’ prisons operate at over 150% capacity, more than any other state. Justice system spendng has gone from $4 billion to over $8.5 billion a year. Half of the state’s prison population is serving time for nonviolent offenses that commonly occur as a result of untreated trauma and unaddressed issues of poverty.

In response to Illinois’ mass-incarceration crisis,  allies in the Right On Justice alliance, Communities United,  United Congress of Community and Religious OrganizationsTarget Area Development Corporation and others have launched “Re-Imagine Justice Illinois,” a transformative statewide campaign to reprioritizes use of tax dollars in smarter, more compassionate and more effective ways.

With a few common sense reforms, Illinois can: (1) shift millions of dollars away from the incarceration of people with non-violent minor offenses, and (2) allocate millions of dollars towards programs that reduce and prevent crime by addressing its root causes and building healthier and safer communities.

This model  is known as “Community Justice Reinvestment,” and has been implemented in states throughout the country. State Senator Toi Hutchinson and Representative Elgie Sims are working with Re-Imagine Justice Illinois to introduce the “Decriminalizing Poverty, Increasing Opportunity and Safety Act” (SB 2295), Illinois’ approach to justice reinvestment.

The “Decriminalizing Poverty, Increasing Opportunity and Safety Act” (SB 2295) would:

  • Reclassify low-level offenses such as drug possession, writing bad checks, and non-violent minor theft and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. This would reduce or eliminate incarceration time while providing individuals with treatment and rehabilitation options in their communities
  • Retroactively apply the reclassification to qualifying individuals
  • Shift resources from short and long-term savings from reduced incarceration towards services that make communities safer such as job training, after-school programs, mental health services, drug treatment programs, wraparound services and affordable housing opportunities.

ROJ members and partners are committed to advancing these efforts to reform the state’s criminal justice system and generate millions of dollars for the state’s most vulnerable communities. For more information about these efforts or to get involved, contact evelin@communitiesunited.org via email, or at 773-583-1387.