The problem of prison overcrowding in Illinois has no shortage of solutions, according to both lawmakers and groups in favor of reforming the criminal justice system. Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) says Illinois can spend less on incarceration and improve public safety, though it may take a few years to see the benefits.
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“Sometimes it’s an investment and you don’t save the money right now, but that’s still a pressure that we are now feeling right now, in a stronger way, about saving money,” Cullerton said at a forum on the subject in Chicago. Speakers from advocacy groups, like Rick Velasquez of Youth Outreach Services, believe the solution is to change sentences for certain crimes, all the way down to the juvenile level.
”We can do a lot more to change behavior without cuffing kids, without putting them in the back of a squad car and petitioning them to court,” Velasquez said. Much of the blame for the overcrowding was put on mandatory minimum sentences that were put in place for certain drug crimes starting in the 1980s. Cullerton admitted that the lack of reform in those areas is due to fears from politicians that they’ll then be considered “soft” on crime.
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