Ideas Abound On How To Revamp Illinois' Criminal Justice System

Jul 16, 2014


State lawmakers are gathering ideas on how to handle Illinois' prison population. The Joint Criminal Justice Reform Committee heard more than three hours of testimony during its first meeting this week.

Advocates and prison officials had a variety of complex answers to lawmakers’ questions. That means understanding who’s in prison, what they’re in for, how long they stay in prison, and how often they end up going back.

 Kathy Saltmarsh is a state official who studies sentencing guidelines. She testified during Tuesday's hearing.

"Do you want to be spending your incarceration dollar on people who are simply acting out at a relatively low level over and over again, or is there a more-effective, less costly strategy for dealing with them?" Saltmarsh said.

Saltmarsh encouraged lawmakers to do more assessments of inmates - so it’s easier to see who’s likely to end up back in prison after being released.

Rep. Mike Zalewski is a Riverside Democrat who pushed to create the committee. He says he wants efforts to be data driven. The group is expected to release recommendations at year's end. Zalewski says he hopes that also means some legislation.