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May 24, 2011

Prison advocates in Illinois pointing to Plata to help their case for reform

It will be interesting to watch whether and how the Supreme Court's major California prison ruling yesterday in Plata (basics here) will impact sentencing and prison reform debates in other states.  This local article, headlined "Call made for sentencing standards reform in Ill.," shows that folks in Illinois are already hearing echoes from the ruling: 

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling ordering California to release tens of thousands of prisoners to ease overcrowding should serve as a warning bell about the need to overhaul sentencing standards in Illinois, a prison watchdog group said today.

“We don’t want to become California,” said John Maki, executive director of the Chicago-based John Howard Association.  “We need to be talking about ways to have a more effective justice system, and heavy sentencing is not the best way of preventing crime.”

The number of inmates in state custody has soared in recent months after Gov. Pat Quinn suspended early release programs after a botched attempt to speed up the rate at which inmates could receive good-time credit.

There are currently 48,661 inmates in state custody, and while that is higher than in recent years, the state is capable of properly housing 50,000, said Cara Smith, chief of staff for the Illinois Department of Corrections.  Smith said the department is engaged in discussions about ways to reform sentencing standards.  She noted 5,000 inmates a year enter the system on relatively minor crimes, such as drug possession and retail theft.

May 24, 2011 at 11:02 AM | Permalink

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