For those concerned about Illinois' budget deficit, be sure to check out Jessica Pupovac's excellent cover story in the Chicago Reader about Illinois' aging prison population. According to Pupovac's research, the Illinois Department of Corrections spends roughly $428 million per year housing inmates over 50 years of age. That's one-third of the department's bloated budget. It costs four times as much to imprison older (and less healthy) inmates than the young, a discrepancy that is intuitive but still startling. And the state's population is graying by the day, meaning the costs will undoubtedly rise over time.
Of course, budget hawks who say we need "economic reforms" before a tax increase overlook completely this enormous and expanding portion of Illinois' spending plan. Two years ago, Republicans and conservative Democrats torpedoed a bill in the Illinois House that would have enabled those who’ve turned 50 and spent 25 years behind bars to seek a sentence reduction. (Criminal justice reformers have long argued that the Illinois Prisoner Review Board is too stingy in granting parole to the elderly.) And only four lawmakers (and no Republicans) showed up at a legislative hearing this spring focused on proposals to cut down Illinois' prison population and lower the recidivism rate. It's a missed opportunity to implement policy changes that are both cost-effective and humane.