The number of inmates in the Illinois criminal justice system has experienced a 20 percent decline in the past half-decade. A decline in arrests for nonviolent crimes may have played a part.
Recent Illinois Department of Corrections data showed that the prison population shrunk from 49,401 in early February 2013 to 39,204 as of the beginning of this month.
Ben Ruddell, director of Criminal Justice Policy at the ACLU of Illinois, attributed the decrease to “a variety of things, but one thing in particular.”
“It is fewer people being arrested by the police for drug and property crimes … they’re characterized as offenses that most people agree are not appropriate to send somebody to prison for,” Ruddell said.
The Danville Correctional Center population, as of June 20, 2019 was 1,724. The Danville prison has an operational capacity of 1,864. The Danville facility opened in October of 1985. The average annual cost per offender at the Danville facility is $18,165 according to fiscal year 2018 figures.
According to Ruddell, much of the focus is on arrests “on the street level,” especially those in Chicago and the rest of Cook County.
“We’re seeing a lot fewer go to prison for crimes like shoplifting and drug possession because there are fewer people being arrested for those crimes,” he said.
Ruddell explained that during the administration of Gov. Bruce Rauner, “there was a lot of time spent and ink spilled” in identifying the problems in the state’s criminal justice system, in addition to devising solutions to reduce the incarcerated population.
“A lot of really good work was done and a lot of promising solutions were identified, and precious little action was taken,” Ruddell said.
A bipartisan commission of experts from across the state appointed by Rauner came up with solutions that his successor, Gov. J.B. Pritzker, has yet to implement, according to Ruddell.
“There’s a road map,” he said. “We just need to follow it.”
Cost savings as a result of the decline in prison population were not available.
[Much of this story is from Illinois Radio Network News.]