The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released information about incarceration rates across the country, and even though incarceration rates have gone down in Illinois, there are other issues that still require solutions, according to an independent corrections monitor.
Illinois has the 22nd lowest incarceration rate in the country, the bureau report said, and the number of people incarcerated in Illinois dropped from 46,240 to 43,657 from Dec. 31, 2015, to the end of 2016.
But Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the John Howard Association, said even though incarceration rates have gone down, Illinois prisons are still overcrowded.
“Originally, Illinois’ system was designed to hold just over 28,000 inmates. We’ve always seen the number of 32,000,” Vollen-Katz said. “Either number you use, that still points to a prison system that is way overpopulated.”
Packed prisons come at a cost for the state.
“We spend a lot of money to house, clothe, feed and treat prison inmates,” Vollen-Katz said. “We spend about $22,000 per inmate, per year.”
When factoring in all the marginal costs to care for inmates, the number goes up to about $36,000 per inmate, per year, she said.
Vollen-Katz said the Illinois Department of Corrections has a program called the Kewanee Life Skills Re-entry Center that could help decrease recidivism.
“They get job training, they get interviewing skills and resume building skills and things they will need to be successful when they leave,” Vollen-Katz said.
Vollen-Katz said there are many things the State of Illinois should do differently when it comes to keeping recidivism low.
She said more programs and funding are needed to help inmates become productive members of society when they get out of jail.
Evaluating the needs of the prisoners is one way to improve incarceration rates in the state,” Vollen-Katz said.
“Whether it’s job training or further education, or mental health treatment, whatever their needs are, identifying them as early on as possible is going to be helpful in figuring out how we can help that person,” she said.