The Dollars and Cents of Incarceration in Illinois

Keeping people in prison is an expensive proposition, and one that is often of questionable value.  In 2010, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) reported close to $1.2 billion in prison expenditures; the state also had $566.1 million in additional prison-related costs. This amounts to an average cost of almost $25,000 an inmate. Unfortunately, the problem keeps getting worse.  In recent years, Illinois’ prison population has soared from less than 10,000 inmates in the early 1970s to nearly 50,000, leading to prison overcrowding and deteriorating conditions.

The experienced and seasoned Illinois criminal law attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd., believe that lengthy incarceration for those accused of crimes is not always the best answer.  We understand the seriousness of the situation and offer aggressive representation for clients facing criminal charges.  We understand the courts and the criminal justice system. We know  how to plea bargain and negotiate guidelines, and recognize when to take your case to trial to assure the best possible outcome.  If you have been arrested or accused of a crime, we offer a free consultation to examine your individual situation and determine the course of action that is right for you.

Why is the Prison Population Rising?

The main cause of our increased prison population comes from laws that attempt to make government tough on crime.  In the 1970s, it became in vogue to have a political mindset of punishment and incarceration, particularly for crimes related to drugs.  The focus became to attack crime through waging war on drugs, pushing for harsher sentencing, and cutting early-release programs.

This produced some unfortunate results. The cost to Illinois taxpayers increased, but the effect on the crime rate and public safety has been minimal.  IDOC statistics show that almost 70 percent of all Illinois inmates are in prison for non-violent crimes, and about 50 percent of all offenders serve six months or less, so keeping these offenders in jail does not add to public safety.  In fact, when low-level, non-violent offenders are incarcerated and exposed to hardened criminals, the chances increase that they will commit new crimes after being released from prison.

What is Being Done?

Fortunately, Illinois is starting to take steps to reduce costs, prevent prison overcrowding, and better protect public safety.  As part of the Crime Reduction Act of 2009, IDOC began working with counties to send non-violent offenders to community-based programs instead of jail.  These programs are less expensive and more effective than the state prison system at rehabilitating these kinds of offenders.

In 2015, a commission was formed by Governor Bruce Rauner to reform the state’s criminal justice and sentencing system.  The goal is to find safe ways reduce the state’s prison population 25 percent by 2025. This commission released its final report in January, proposing 27steps to reform the system. They are:

  • Add rehabilitation and workforce development services and relax state housing restrictions that prohibit renting to people with criminal records.
  • Push the use of risk assessment tools in courts to decide which cases call for incarceration and for how long.
  • Encourage the development of local Criminal Justice Coordinating Councils to address crime in specific regions.
  • Use a gender-responsive approach for female offenders.
  • Require training on racial and ethnic bias for people working in the criminal justice system.
  • Improve data collection.
  • Collect and report data on race and ethnicity at all points in the criminal justice system.
  • Require state agencies to evaluate the criminal justice programs they fund and cut programs that don’t work.
  • Prevent use of prison for felons with short stays.
  • Raise the threshold dollar amounts for some thefts.
  • Give judges discretion to use probation for residential burglary, class 2 felonies and drug offenses.
  • Require judges to explain prison sentences for offenders with no prior probation sentences or no history of violent crime.
  • Reduce minimum sentences for all but the lowest-level felonies.
  • Limit automatic sentence enhancements.
  • Reduce sentence classifications for drug crimes.
  • Change mandatory felony classifications for drug crimes committed near protected areas like parks and schools.
  • Reduce classification for possessing a stolen vehicle.
  • Allow all inmates to earn programming credits.
  • Let inmates who are required to serve 75+ percent of their sentence to earn programming credit and good conduct credit.
  • Make better use of adult transition centers.
  • Improve and expand electronic monitoring.
  • Develop protocol to move terminally ill or incapacitated inmates out of prison.
  • Enhance rehabilitative programming in the Illinois Department of Corrections.
  • Limit maximum term of mandatory supervised release.
  • Restore the Halfway Back program for violations of mandatory supervised release.
  • Require DOC and the Secretary of State to ensure inmates have a state ID card when released.

In general, to control costs, eliminate prison overcrowding, and to build a system that rehabilitates and reduces the chances of repeat offenses, politicians and policymakers must make major changes throughout the criminal justice system.  Illinois must make reforms that start at the arrest process and continue even after inmates are released from prison.

Put Your Trust In Us — Contact Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. for a Free Consultation.

If you are accused of a crime in Illinois, you want to do everything possible to keep out of prison. You cannot do it alone – you need to hire the best criminal defense attorney that you can find. Always ask to speak to an attorney before answering questions.  A defense lawyer can advise you on your rights, influence charges against you, and may be able to keep you from being incarcerated.

The Illinois criminal defense lawyers at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. are skilled trial lawyers who believe each case is unique, with its own set of circumstances. We examine the facts, the individuals involved, and the evidence available, and work hand in hand with our clients throughout the criminal process to come up with an effective defense strategy. Our goal is always to minimize the negative impact of the situation and to focus on protecting your freedoms, liberties and rights.

We are aggressive litigators, and we will work with you to answer all your questions and make sure you fully understand the facts surrounding your case.  We represent clients in DuPage County, Naperville, Aurora, Wheaton, Downers Grove and Bolingbrook, and the greater Chicagoland area.

Delaying can only make your situation worse, so call 630-305-0222 today to schedule your free initial consultation.

Attorney Marc Wolfe

Marc Wolfe has been representing clients in criminal matters in Chicago and the entire State of Illinois for over 30 years. Mr. Wolfe has tried over 300 cases to verdict and represents clients facing investigation or prosecution for a broad range of state and federal criminal offenses, including murder, embezzlement, sexual abuse, drugs, marijuana and white collar crimes. [ Attorney Bio ]