* Kevin Bessler at Center Square…
The Senate criminal law committee is looking at how changes to the state’s criminal sentencing rules could affect everything from the state’s prison population to public safety in Illinois cities.
The state’s Truth in Sentencing law has been debated since 1998 and it was the center of discussion during a Senate criminal law committee hearing on Tuesday.
The Illinois law requires that nearly all violent offenders serve 85% to 100% of their sentences. Prior to the enactment of the law, offenders served on average 44% of their sentences.
Kathy Saltmarsh, the executive director for the Sentencing Policy Advisory Council, or SPAC, said the law keeps prisoners locked up for years at considerable cost to taxpayers
“The costs are high,” Saltmarsh said. “It’s about a $42,000 to $45,000 cost per year for a year of incarceration.” […]
The Illinois Department of Corrections spends roughly $428 million a year, about a third of its annual budget, keeping elderly inmates behind bars, according to a 2011 Chicago Reader article. The article noted that “while keeping a younger inmate behind bars costs taxpayers about $17,000 a year, older inmates cost four times as much.”
Saltmarsh said under the Truth in Sentencing law, inmates don’t get credit for good behavior.
“What we have now is about 45% of our population that is under a Truth in Sentencing restriction, and as that grows, it makes it harder and harder for the department to reward good behavior and move people out early,” Saltmarsh said.
* Raymon Troncosos at Capitol News Illinois…
Witnesses from the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association agreed with making drug sentencing more equitable. They also advocated for more government-provided resources to underserved communities in terms of education, housing, economic assistance and counseling to reduce crime. The group also said providing more resources to inmates such as work release and work study programs could assist in the rehabilitation effort.
The state’s attorneys, however, pushed back on calls to do away with mandatory minimums and truth-in-sentencing laws.
“What our concern is as prosecutors, is we are doing our jobs to protect the public from the wolves, not the sheep,” Justin Hood, president of the association, said during his testimony.
He also emphasized that prosecutors do not look at the race or gender of the individual when deciding criminal charges, but instead focus on the crime itself and the defendant’s criminal history.