As Illinois considers long-term changes to the state's criminal justice system, a civil rights watchdog says the majority of voters want reforms now. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has released the results of a statewide poll taken before the holidays.
It shows the overwhelming majority of voters believe the system is "broken." Ben Ruddell, criminal justice policy attorney with the ACLU, says that sentiment extends across party lines, with 76 percent of Illinois Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans agreeing that changes need to be made.
"People recognize that we're not spending our public safety dollars in a smart way," says Ruddell. "People understand that the current system is unsustainable, that our prisons are bursting at the seams."
The poll findings come as Gov. Bruce Rauner's State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform prepares to release a second round of reform suggestions next week.
The Commission has already recommended that probation be used instead of prison time for nonviolent drug offenders. According to the ACLU poll, there's substantial bipartisan agreement on such changes as reclassifying some drug-possession offenses to lower-level charges.
To Ruddell, this shows that voters are ahead of lawmakers on many of these issues.
"We've incarcerated people for a longer and longer period of time, and that hasn't lowered their recidivism rates," he says. "That hasn't stopped crime from happening. But it's come at great cost to the State of Illinois."
The commission meets again next Thursday, February 18, and is expected to release more details on plans to reduce the state's prison population by 25 percent over the next decade.