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Senate committee hears testimony on state’s “Truth in Sentencing” law

Wednesday, Sep 16, 2020

* 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.

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

13 Comments »
  1. - Quibbler - Wednesday, Sep 16, 20 @ 10:35 am:

    The humane, socialist response (i.e. prisons are inhumane and should be abolished) attracts a lot of caterwauling, so let me put on my Sensible Centrist Austerity Hat: With state finances badly strapped by years of pension overruns and now COVID, keeping people locked up for decades at taxpayer expense is a luxury we just can’t afford. We’ll get bigger bang for our buck by redirecting resources into housing, healthcare, violence interruption programs, and other resources that stop crime before it starts.


  2. - phenom_Anon - Wednesday, Sep 16, 20 @ 10:43 am:

    =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.=

    I have a feeling that conviction and sentencing data would not agree with that statement.


  3. - Precinct Captain - Wednesday, Sep 16, 20 @ 10:59 am:

    At best, Justin Hood is misguided and wrong headed. At worst, he’s something far more sinister.

    https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/un-report-on-racial-disparities/


  4. - Chicagonk - Wednesday, Sep 16, 20 @ 11:10 am:

    The easy part of sentencing reform has been done (drugs and non-violent offenses). If the goal is to continue to make a dent in the prison population, the hard part of deciding which violent offenders should be released early will have to be made. Not sure if legislators want to take on that yet.


  5. - Keyrock - Wednesday, Sep 16, 20 @ 11:37 am:

    Truth in sentencing is not inconsistent with reducing mandatory minimum sentences and the length of sentences for drug crimes. It’s possible to have both.


  6. - anon1 - Wednesday, Sep 16, 20 @ 12:14 pm:

    The law should allow parole for long-term prisoners who show signs of rehabilitation. Not doing so means paying for a geriatric population of criminals, most of whom may no longer be dangerous.


  7. - Rasselas - Wednesday, Sep 16, 20 @ 12:35 pm:

    Before changing ‘Truth in Sentencing’, someone needs to look at the data. Before TIS, judges knew that prisoners typically served half of their sentence and sentenced accordingly. After TIS, judges knew prisoners were going to serve 85-100% of their sentence. My bet is the judges sentenced accordingly. If so, then this isn’t really about TIS, it’s about what the sentences should be.


  8. - Telly - Wednesday, Sep 16, 20 @ 12:43 pm:

    How about a return to the traditional parole system where an earlier release could be granted based on behavior and signs of rehabilitation, not a mathematical formula?


  9. - revvedup - Wednesday, Sep 16, 20 @ 1:03 pm:

    While the current theory is “let everyone out”, that simply won’t work for violent felons. Wild animals are caged for a reason. They need to stay in cages for a reason. Not everyone should be eligible for release on parole/MSR/name of the month. Multiple prior forcible felonies? Sorry, you blew it; sit down for a spell in your cell. The non-violent/non-forcible felons can do time in work-release/overnight/weekend jail stays. All the social services in the world aren’t going to turn around most (not all) violent hard-core thugs.


  10. - Rodriguez - Wednesday, Sep 16, 20 @ 1:51 pm:

    instead of focusing on “what” the crime was, I think giving those who put forth the effort to rehabilitate a chance to work toward knocking time off their sentence with good behavior is much more important. please, abolish truth-in-sentencing


  11. - Papa2008 - Wednesday, Sep 16, 20 @ 4:34 pm:

    Simple answer: Lock up the predators forever. Release the offenders early and often.


  12. - charles in charge - Wednesday, Sep 16, 20 @ 4:39 pm:

    ==The easy part of sentencing reform has been done (drugs and non-violent offenses).==

    Wrong. Illinois lawmakers have done just about zero to reform sentences. The low-hanging fruit is still there for the picking.

    ==If the goal is to continue to make a dent in the prison population, the hard part of deciding which violent offenders should be released early will have to be made.==

    That part is true. Most people who go to prison for nonviolent offenses don’t stay very long. The IDOC population is increasingly comprised of people serving lengthy sentences for serious offenses. Many could be safely released long before their sentences end.


  13. - charles in charge - Wednesday, Sep 16, 20 @ 4:43 pm:

    ==Before changing ‘Truth in Sentencing’, someone needs to look at the data. Before TIS, judges knew that prisoners typically served half of their sentence and sentenced accordingly. After TIS, judges knew prisoners were going to serve 85-100% of their sentence. My bet is the judges sentenced accordingly. If so, then this isn’t really about TIS, it’s about what the sentences should be.==

    Your bet is wrong. Lawmakers were told in the ’90’s that if they passed TIS, judges would compensate by reducing the length of sentences they imposed. However, that did not occur: sentences imposed by judges remained about the same, but time served nearly doubled because of TIS.


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