Illinois Could Drastically Reduce Its Prison Population Without Seeing Crime Increase, New Report Says

A new study says Illinois could reduce its prison by population by 25% over the next five years without contributing to an increase in crime.

Ending mass incarceration has been the stated goal of several Illinois lawmakers and advocates. Such efforts are frequently met with concerns that fewer people behind bars will mean more crime on the streets. This new report says those concerns are unfounded.

The paper, published Friday, points to states like New York, California and Maryland, which have significantly reduced their prison populations while also seeing a drop in crime. It also notes that Illinois itself has cut down on its prison population and still seen crime go down.

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No One Should Have To Die In Prison By Joseph Dole

Every year people die in the custody of Illinois Department of Corrections, the vast majority due in part to overincarceration.

COVID-19 is highlighting this fact because it is attacking the elderly and infirm, many of whom have spent decades enduring harsh prison conditions. They die lonely deaths for no other reason than incarceration politics, and in a vain attempt to satiate the insatiable appetite some people have for revenge.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and others have recently voiced support for early releases of “non-violent offenders,” and insinuate that this shows they still consider public safety as the main priority. Not only is this insufficient to address mass incarceration, but if public safety is the main priority, then they should have no problem releasing “violent offenders.”

That’s because people convicted of violent offenses have lower recidivism rates and even a lower likelihood of committing violence if released.

The thousands of people currently serving long sentences are doing so due to racism, fear-mongering, dehumanization, political exploitation, and the false promise that harsher sentences are needed to deter crime.

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Joseph Dole Is An Incarcerated Writer, Co-Founder & Policy Director Of Parole Illinois

 

SHUT DOWN VIENNA

Activists and family members of people incarcerated in Vienna Correctional Center are calling on the Illinois Department of Public Health to shut down the minimum-security prison in southern Illinois.

The prison has been plagued by electrical issues, which caused intermittent power outages over several weeks in May, according to news reports.

Prison officials have relied on backup generators, which generate noxious fumes and are themselves unreliable.

The petition also claims the prison is infested with black mold and rodents in the dining halls and kitchen. These ongoing issues have made the facility dangerous, especially during a pandemic.

Activists have often called for the closure of prisons, including Stateville, Pontiac and Menard.

Vienna, which opened in November 1965, is often on the list.

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THE STIGMA OF BEING LABELED A VIOLENT OFFENDER

My brother Aaron, a violent felon, is neither my brother nor violent. The fact that these two descriptors aren’t technically accurate is basically irrelevant. In practice, they function as truth.

I was reminded of this last July when my dad called me from the county courthouse.

“How’d it go?” I asked, but I already knew it was bad news. If Aaron had been released, it would’ve been his voice on the line.

“The judge gave him 90 more days,” my dad said.

“But I thought—”

“Yeah, well. The judge agreed to that before she knew he was a violent felon.” He paused. “I saw her sentence a couple of guys to eight years. Young guys. He got lucky.” His voice was a tangle of sadness and anger and relief.

I’ve worked in criminal justice reform long enough that phrases like violent felon have largely been stripped of their emotional content. But this moment was personal, and hearing the term was jarring. For a second I thought my father must be talking about someone else.

An imprecise, capricious label handed down by the criminal justice system can mark a person for life.

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YOU’RE INVITED & NEEDED: Hope To See You There

Join us for a public hearing on the current conditions that incarcerated people are facing under the COVID-19 pandemic and how communities inside and out are building up the practices and institutions that support healthy and self-determined communities during COVID-19.

And beyond.

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HONORABLE GOAL: Less Violence This Summer

With Memorial Day weekend signaling the start of Chicago’s historically violent summer season, city agencies are banding together in an effort to tamp down shootings.

To that end, the city has opened the new Summer Operations Center — a facility staffed by employees of the Chicago Park District, CTA, CPS, and the Department of Streets and Sanitation, among others.

The facility will be housed in the city’s Office of Emergency Management & Communications in the West Loop in an effort to streamline operations and resource deployment among the various departments and the city’s emergency services. The SOC will operate from 5 p.m. Thursday until Monday morning every weekend of the summer, according to city officials.

The goal of the SOC, CPD Supt. David Brown said, is straightforward: “Reducing murders and shootings this summer.”

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SIGN THE PETITION: PLEASE & THANK YOU

The COVID-19 crisis in U.S. prisons has shone a light on the horrific conditions and overcrowding that have turned many prisons into death traps.

But it is only a reminder of the fate of many people incarcerated in Illinois who face death-by-incarceration every year, due to decades of extreme and inhumane sentencing policies.

Victims of crime, convicted people, and their loved ones all suffer when people are locked up for years beyond the needs of public safety. Nearly every other state has mechanisms to release long-term incarcerated individuals who are ready to rejoin society. Illinois does not.

If nothing changes, over 5,000 Illinoisans will be required to grow old and die in prison.

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WHEN LIFE DEALS YOU LIMES

“They’re back on lockdown. They let them go to yard. After that, there were too many cases. So they put them on lockdown. With no yard.”

Name: Melly Rios

“My husband says he’s doing good.”

She says husband but they’re not married. Not yet. In her mind, they’re a team. It’s not a ring. It’s not a dress. It’s not a fancy party. It’s a mindset, this is how you love someone on the inside.

Husband: Benny Donjuán Rios

Sentence: 45 Years

Time Served: 18 Years

“Just to show how much we take life for granted, right. He called me and he’s like baby I’m so happy! I’m so excited! And I’m like what happened? Tell me. He’s like it’s been a really great day. Guess what? And I’m like what? And he’s like, I ate a lime. He was that excited because he ate a lime.”

When life deals you lemons, make lemonade. Right? That’s common knowledge. But who ever heard when life deals you limes, brag about it to the woman you love. 

It’s not really bragging, is it? It’s more like a confession of love, opening up about a small thing, a seemingly small thing, when in fact it’s the opposite, it’s the biggest thing because it wakes up joy, it tastes like hope.

“You know how many limes I throw away? And I’m like baby that’s so good. I’m not gonna tell him, oh a lime? That would bring his whole mood down.”

That’s the thing about love. Sometimes it’s tangy. Sometimes it’s tart. But sharing your life, what could be sweeter?

Benny Donjuán Rios is incarcerated at Stateville.

He has a home waiting for him with Melly.

REDEMPTION: More Than A Song, More Than A Story, It Springs From Growth

Corzell Cole is working on his redemption story.

During the 17 years he’s been behind bars, Cole has actively tried to make positive change for his community, his family and himself.

“The reality is that I wake up in prison every day, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have goals,” he says.

Cole is a 36-year-old man with a gregarious demeanor and perfectly maintained hair that he learned to trim while working at his cousin’s barbershop in Joliet, Ill. In conversation, he’ll take any opportunity to bring up his kids — three sons who are 21, 20 and 17 years old.

“I’m parenting from the penitentiary,” says Cole. “My father wasn’t around when I was growing up, and I want to make sure that my sons won’t make the same mistakes I made.”

When Cole was 19, he was arrested on first-degree murder and attempted murder charges for his role as the driver in a shooting that killed a man and injured his teenage daughter.

Cole was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison. He is contesting the conviction.

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