peters sims 101320CHICAGO—State lawmakers from both chambers discussed prison reform during the fifth criminal justice reform hearing called by the Black Caucus on Tuesday.

“We cannot continue to follow the same prescription and expect different results,” Senate Criminal Law Chair State Senator Elgie R. Sims Jr. (D-Chicago) said. “Prison reform is crucial to ensure Illinoisans of all backgrounds are treated fairly. We must stop monitoring individuals who have served their time and are not a threat to society. I also do not subscribe to putting someone in prison as a means to address substance abuse. Together, I know we will develop meaningful solutions and alternatives to truly deliver justice to people throughout the state.”

Sims co-chaired the committee with State Senator Robert Peters (D-Chicago), chair of the Senate Special Committee on Public Safety. Chair of the House Judiciary-Criminal Law Committee State Representative Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago) and other committee members also participated in the Senate joint hearing. It was the fifth joint hearing on criminal justice reform called by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus to develop an agenda to eliminate systemic racism ahead of the upcoming veto session. Criminal justice reform is the first of four pillars, which are guiding their efforts:

  1. Criminal justice reform, violence reduction and police accountability
  2. Education and workforce development
  3. Economic access, equity and opportunity
  4. Health care and human services

"We obviously have an issue with mass incarceration, but it's important to realize that we also have an issue with the infrastructure of incarceration and care," Peters said. "The way we treat humans locked in cages speaks volumes to the cruelty of our nation's past and present and makes it clear that we invest too much into systems of brutality and not nearly enough into systems of care. The only way that we can achieve a safe and dignified world is to invest in the infrastructure of care and let the infrastructure of pain crumble."

Prison reform was discussed specifically in regards to diversion and re-entry programs, prison conditions, prison gerrymandering and mandatory supervised release reform.

"Focusing on rehabilitation, expanding reentry programs and providing critical services for formerly incarcerated individuals are necessary steps we must take to reduce recidivism and create opportunities for a better future,” said Slaughter. “Furthermore, by implementing policies that break down barriers to successful reentry and ensuring that those currently incarcerated have the representation and resources they and their communities need by ending prison gerrymandering, we can address disparities in Black communities that have been exacerbated by racism within our criminal justice system."  

Members heard testimony from Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities, the Safer Foundation, CHANGE Illinois, the Illinois Department of Corrections, the John Howard Association and the Shriver Center.

The first four Senate joint hearings focused on police accountability, sentencing reform, violence reduction and resources for victims.