SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Bruce Rauner continued his leadership by executive order Wednesday, tackling prison crowding by creating a commission to recommend criminal justice and sentencing reforms.
East of the state Capitol in downtown Springfield, the Republican appeared in the local courthouse to pay homage to Sangamon County’s community-based prison-diversion program and sign an executive order compelling the panel to provide him by July 1 with preliminary options for reducing the prison population.
It was Rauner’s 14th executive order on his 30th day in office, and came just hours before an Illinois House Judiciary Committee resumed justice-system revamp discussions to deal with 48,000 inmates in a prison system designed for 32,000 and to which half of all parolees return within three years.
“This is a tragedy. It is a vicious and costly cycle,” Rauner said. “We need to make sure we are rehabilitating inmates so they don’t commit crimes over and over again.”
Rauner telegraphed his action in last week’s State of the State address when he trumpeted the success of Adult Redeploy Illinois, in which counties, including Sangamon, get money to find constructive alternatives to lockups for offenders. Rauner said it’s kept almost 2,000 people out of penitentiaries in its three years.
Although the governor is new, none of what he’s complaining about is. People in and out of government, in academia and industry, have discussed these problems generally for years. Rauner was asked why another study needs to be done when reams of data already exist on computer hard drives and in bound volumes on shelves statewide.
“There’s always data flowing around,” Rauner said. “We need it focused, we need it concentrated, we need to make sure every interest group is reflected at the table, that the right experts are brought into bear and this is done on a coordinated, managed basis not on a disorganized basis.
“This will be done right, it will be comprehensive, and it will be done on a prompt timeframe,” he added.
Notable has been Rauner’s rejection of his predecessor’s claim that state prisons aren’t dangerously crowded. Former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration redefined how it counted prison space, talking in terms “operational” – as opposed to “design” – capacity and counting non-cell prison space where some low-risk offenders stay. Instead, Rauner cited federal statistics Wednesday tagging Illinois lockups at 150 percent design capacity – “unsafe to both inmates and staff.”
Shortly after Rauner’s announcement, a House Judiciary Committee studying criminal justice reform convened in Chicago, and witnesses recited data from which the governor’s commission will likely draw. The panel has a particular eye on so-called “mandatory minimum” sentences, which impose a required minimum term behind bars and take sentencing discretion away from judges.
Rauner also said Wednesday in answer to a question that current Corrections Director S.A. “Tony” Godinez is “in the mix” during discussions of who will lead the prison system. Godinez announced he would retire at the end of December but stayed to ease the transition to a new administration.
Through a spokesman, Godinez declined to comment, saying he would discuss staying privately with Rauner, if asked.
Contact John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor
Associated Press writer Nick Swedberg contributed.
Illinois Department of Corrections: http://www2.illinois.gov/idoc/
Illinois executive orders: http://www.illinois.gov/Government/ExecOrders/