Illinois prisons

The Illinois Senate passed legislation that would block a plan to privatize more than 120 nursing jobs in state prisons.

Governor Bruce Rauner says his plan would save 8 million dollars per year. Private companies, in his view, can do the same work for cheaper. However, Democrats say that’s because private companies don’t pay their workers well. Four Republican senators, including Sam McCann from Plainview, agreed.

“Why can’t we be for working people?" he said. "Why would we let these nurses go, then hire them back the next day...for less.”

flickr user / Michael Coghlan "Prison Bars" (CC BY-SA 2.0)

More than 100 nurses at Illinois prisons have received layoff notices telling them their jobs are being privatized.

The Associated Press obtained a letter Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration sent to Alice Johnson, executive director for the Illinois Nurses Association. It says the state will hire contract nurses and that the unionized nurses will be laid off June 15.

Johnson told the AP the layoffs are an attempt to ``bully and intimidate'' the nurses in retaliation for rejecting a contract agreement last year.

Brian Mackey/Illinois Public Radio

Partisan gridlock has caused Illinois to run without a full budget for more than a year-and-a-half. But there's one area Democrats and Republicans are working together.

It's one of the rare bright spots in Springfield: Members of both parties have been coming together to improve the criminal justice system.

"I think that's right. In fact, in the bill that you just called me about -- there was very strong bipartisan support."

Representative Barbara Flynn Currie is majority leader in the Illinois House. The "bill" she referred to is now a law.

flickr user / Michael Coghlan "Prison Bars" (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Any day now, Governor Bruce Rauner's criminal justice reform commission is expected to release its final set of recommendations.

It's trying to figure out how to safely reduce Illinois' prison population by 25 percent over the next decade. 

The commission came out with a relatively easy set of recommendations last year. This round of ideas could be more politically difficult.

For example: reducing so-called drug-free zones around schools, parks and churches from a thousand feet to 500 feet.

Flickr user Tim (Timothy) Pearce / "Prison cell with bed inside Alcatraz main building san francisco california" (CC BY 2.0)

The Illinois Department of Corrections says the state’s prison population dropped by 9 percent this past year.

That’s a good start toward Governor Bruce Rauner’s goal of a 25 percent reduction by 2025.

But Jennifer Vollen-Katz, with prison watchdog the John Howard Association, says the hard part is still to come.

“The 9 percent reduction is great, but the next 16 percent is going to be difficult,” she says. “We are really going to have to confront some things that are much more political and more divisive, like truth in sentencing and mandatory minimums.”

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