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Drug sentencing reform is topic of Senate hearing

Wednesday, Sep 30, 2020

* Center Square

A joint hearing of the Senate Criminal Law and Public Safety Committees on Tuesday took up the subject of drug sentencing reform.

The meeting was a subject-matter only hearing, meaning it was for informational purposes and no legislative remedies were proposed or voted upon.

Ben Ruddell, criminal justice policy director with the American Civil Liberties Union, called for the reduction of penalties for all drug offenses.

“Our recommendation is reforms for all drug offenses to take them down by at least one class, including reducing simple possession from a felony to a misdemeanor,” Ruddell said.

* Capitol News Illinois

“While Black Illinoisans make up 14.5 percent of the state’s population, they make up 54.8 of those in prison and are imprisoned at 8.8 times the rate of whites, one of the worst disparities of any state,” [Ben Ruddell, director of criminal justice policy for the Illinois ACLU] said.

Isolated to drug crimes, the disparities are larger. Between 2016 and 2018, Black Illinoisans made up 69 percent of drug offenders admitted to the Illinois Department of Corrections, and 59 percent of strictly cannabis offenders.

Ruddell suggested three reforms to combat these disparities: reduction of all drug crimes by one class; reclassification of felony possession to a misdemeanor; and elimination of mandatory minimums and sentence enhancements. Lawmakers discussed the third point in a previous joint hearing. […]

[Wendell Robinson from Restore Justice Illinois] cited a Justice Policy Institute study of 200 elderly prisoners in Maryland who were jailed as juveniles and released as result of a ruling by the Maryland Supreme Court. The median age of the individuals was 64 and they had served 34 years on average. Over a 6-year period upon release, the group had a 3 percent recidivism rate. That was far lower than the national average of 43 percent of those released from prison being incarcerated again, according to a 2011 Pew research study.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

7 Comments »
  1. - Anon E Moose - Wednesday, Sep 30, 20 @ 10:35 am:

    Perfect opportunity for bipartisan solutions to the disastrous “War on Drugs.”


  2. - Arock - Wednesday, Sep 30, 20 @ 11:16 am:

    Cannabis should have been totally legalized and not done in the way that the States have done in picking winners and losers in profiting from its legalization. Taxing and selling it should be no different than is what is used for alcohol and most of the illegal activity would disappear. The manufacturing and distribution of meth, heroin, and other dangerous drugs need fair and tough sentencing guidelines.


  3. - cermak_rd - Wednesday, Sep 30, 20 @ 11:21 am:

    I’m not sure how different cannabis is from our alcohol policy. Remember, to legally sell booze you need a liquor license and we have the goofy booze distribution system as well.


  4. - Amalia - Wednesday, Sep 30, 20 @ 12:13 pm:

    These discussions should not just use percentages. Numbers of people incarcerated for particular crimes is what is real. Multiple studies of incarceration across the country have indicated that to take down the prison population in state prisons some of those incarcerated for violent crime would have to be released. it is not enough to give a percentage of a crime when discussing incarceration of our state. give the numbers. that will show what release will bring.


  5. - Dan Johnson - Wednesday, Sep 30, 20 @ 12:13 pm:

    I do think the diligence of so many members to spend so much time on criminal justice reform issues speaks well to the possibilities of bipartisan progress in veto session.


  6. - Dotnonymous - Wednesday, Sep 30, 20 @ 2:42 pm:

    The war on drugs was all ways a war on people…some more than others.


  7. - @misterjayem - Wednesday, Sep 30, 20 @ 4:05 pm:

    “Multiple studies of incarceration across the country have indicated that to take down the prison population in state prisons some of those incarcerated for violent crime would have to be released.”

    Some of those incarcerated for violent crimes are released right now.

    Reform would simply release some of them sooner.

    – MrJM


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