Letters to the Editor 11/15/2012
GOOD CONDUCT CREDIT FOR ALL
With Illinois having $85 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, the credit rating agencies could no longer ignore the state’s fiscal mess. What’s worse is that our state continues to perpetuate flawed policies that make no sense – the Illinois Department of Correction’s Earned Good Conduct Credit being the perfect example. It is riddled with flaws, such as its eligibility requirements that leave many first-time, nonviolent offenders unable to earn the same good-time credits that second-degree murderers routinely receive.
I am serving a 30-year sentence for cannabis convictions and in no way do I approve of my prior mistakes. However, being in prison does not make my proposals any less valid. Democratic State Senator Michael Frerichs thought the research was commendable and House Republican Leader Tom Cross stated that expanding the EGC Credit to include more nonviolent offenders “merits serious discussions.” The nonpartisan Real Cost of Prisons Project supports such changes and had published the proposal.
Gov. Quinn signed Senate Bill 2621, which should return IDOC’s population back down to 2009 levels, but that still translates to a billion-plus-dollar budget. Please look into the EGC proposal and ask your lawmakers and Gov. Quinn why is it a bad idea.
Jason Alan Spyres
CLOSE YOUTH PRISONS
As advocates and service providers for at-risk youth in Illinois, we strongly support Gov. Quinn’s proposal to close the juvenile prisons at Murphysboro and Joliet. We are not taking a position on the merits of closing adult prisons. Often lost in the heated opposition to Gov. Quinn’s closure plan is an important fact: the Murphysboro facility is already empty, and Joliet is only half full. If opponents overturn the governor’s plan, and succeed in filling up the Joliet and Murphysboro facilities by increasing the incarceration rates of juvenile offenders who are currently looked after in their local communities, we would consider such action a moral outrage.
Prison is not the answer for most youth if we want to set them on a path to successful, productive adulthood. Our interest is in ensuring that Illinois youth have access to community-based alternatives to incarceration. There is a central reason why the governor is on the right path. There is growing evidence nationally and in Illinois that alternatives to juvenile incarceration work to sharply reduce the chances a youth will return to prison. Alternatives such as substance abuse counseling, education services, job training and family support are successful – and significantly reduce costs. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has found that, nationally, alternatives can help reduce recidivism rates by 75 percent three years after youths are released from juvenile correction facilities.
In Illinois, we’re seeing dramatic impact from community-based programs like Redeploy Illinois, which is reaching nearly 400 youth in 28 counties, and has served 1,500 youth since its inception in 2004. A study of youth involved in Redeploy Illinois between 2005 and 2010 found a significantly reduced rate of recidivism – only 17.4 percent who completed the program were arrested on new charges vs. 72.8 percent for youth who did not have access to alternative services. Since its inception, Redeploy Illinois has saved the state more than $40 million in incarceration costs. More importantly, it has helped save the futures of many Illinois youth. Those who call for keeping Joliet and Murphysboro open are calling to reverse a successful strategy that saves taxpayers money and achieves better outcomes for young people.
We urge Illinoisans concerned about our at-risk youth to call upon your local legislators and to support Gov. Quinn’s move to proceed with his plans to shutter Joliet and Murphysboro. There are proven alternatives to incarceration to address the problems of juvenile delinquency.
Al Riddley, executive director, Illinois Coalition for Community Services, Springfield
Kathleen Wright, executive director, Youth Service Bureau, Springfield
Andrea Durbin, executive director, Illinois Collaboration on Youth, Chicago