Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday called for short-term spending to achieve long-term reforms aimed at reducing Illinois’ prison population by 25 percent in the next 10 years.
Rauner spoke in Springfield at a meeting of the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, where he commended the efforts of the group he created last year to achieve that goal.
Some commission members, however, questioned the wisdom of imposing additional financial burdens on an already-strapped corrections system.
“I think everyone’s big concern is, as we do this, some of these things are going to require resources, and resources means money, and I think that’s just a point of anxiety,” said Brendan Kelley, St. Clair County state’s attorney.”
Rauner responded that the state must be willing to spend in the short term for long-term benefits.
“There’s no question that sometimes to save money in the long run requires spending more money in the short run, and in Illinois, we haven’t been doing that for years,” Rauner said. “We’ve always taken the short-run decision, what cuts costs now and not what saves significant resources over a longer term. We’ve got to change that mindset.”
The governor added that the goal is to move the corrections system away from simply housing offenders and keeping them away from the public, and to focus on effective rehabilitation, such as substance abuse training, mental health treatment and counseling to ensure those offenders don’t make the same mistakes again.
“If we can implement (the commission’s) recommendations, I firmly believe that we can have the people of Illinois safer,” Rauner said. “I believe we can save taxpayer money, and most importantly, I believe we can help those who made mistakes lead productive lives and come back as productive, full citizens who are enhancing the quality of life for everyone in all of our communities around Illinois.”
The commission, which has been meeting about once a month since its creation last February, on Thursday discussed ways to control the number of minority youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. Rauner encouraged them not to shy away from emotionally charged racial issues that may be contributing to a disproportionate number of minorities and ethnic groups being incarcerated at a young age.
“I don’t think there’s any question that there is bias within the system,” Rauner said. “The system is built of human beings, and human beings have biases.”
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