Legislation designed to help inmates emerge from prison with the means to get back on their feet passed out of the Illinois Senate Tuesday.
Senate Bill 2465, sponsored by Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) would prohibit the Illinois Department of Corrections from suing current and former inmates to recoup the cost of their room and board while in prison. The legislation passed by a vote of 32-19 in the Senate. It now goes to the Illinois House for consideration.
“This is a dangerous practice that can make it almost impossible for people who have paid their debt to society be able to get back on their feet, find housing and seek employment,” Biss said.
Illinois has had a law allowing the state to sue inmates since 1982, but it was rarely used until recently. According to an investigation by the Chicago Tribune, there were two such lawsuits in 2012 and two in 2013, but the number jumped to 13 in 2015.
Illinois has discretion in determining which current and former inmates to sue. Most are poor. In some cases the state sued them after learning they had received modest inheritances or settlements from civil lawsuit involving private matters or regarding their arrest or incarceration.
The state has recovered about a half-million dollars since 2010, but most of it was from two inmates.
Biss noted that the return is not worth the state’s investment in these expensive lawsuits, particularly when the costs of recidivism and reliance on taxpayer-funded programs, such as food stamps or housing assistance, are factored in.
“It’s not as though most of them are millionaires. We’re talking mainly about people with relatively modest inheritances or court settlements that the state is going after,” Biss said.
“While it’s appropriate to assign financial penalties along with sentencing for certain types of crimes, the question is whether we want to rely on ad hoc lawsuits as a way to pay for the cost of prisons. It’s not consistent with how government should work, nor is it in keeping with the principles of criminal justice and the idea of second chances.”
Thank you to the dozens of community members and others who turned out Tuesday night for a documentary screening and a discussion about gun violence and what can be done about it.
We had a full house for the screening of the documentary “Making a Killing: Guns, Greed and the NRA” at the Evanston Public Library. The event was co-hosted by me, Rep. Robyn Gabel and Rep. Laura Fine.
Afterward, we participated in a discussion with the audience about what can be done to stop gun violence in Illinois and around the country. Audience members asked questions and shared sometimes poignant and deeply personal stories about how gun violence has affected them and their families.
According to the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, nearly 1,000 Illinoisans and more than 30,000 people across the country are killed by guns each year. Tens of thousands are injured but survive.
Clearly, the debate about what we can do to protect our loved ones and our communities from gun violence will continue locally and nationally, as well as at the Illinois Statehouse. I look forward to being part of additional opportunities for productive, respectful discussions.
Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) joined Democratic lawmakers Thursday in offering the Rauner administration guidance on spending priorities by voting for an appropriations bill that authorizes payments for the state’s human service providers, universities and more as the budget impasse drags on.
“Right now 90 percent of Illinois government is moving along on autopilot because of court orders and consent decrees. The other 10 percent is on the verge of shutting down. That 10 percent is just as vital as the other 90 percent,” Biss said.
The Senate approved legislation Thursday that authorizes Gov. Bruce Rauner to meet the state’s contractual obligations with human service providers and Amtrak rail service, pay for universities and colleges, and put money toward libraries, rape crisis centers, autism programs, homelessness, after-school programs, school construction grants, job training, mental health services, medical screenings and research, local tourism and more.
As Gov. Rauner’s impasse with the Legislature over a state budget continues, human service providers statewide are closing their doors because the state has not paid them since July. The same is true for public universities around the state.
“What’s being allowed to happen in Illinois is completely irrational and patently unfair. We need a spending plan, we need to hammer out a way to pay for it and we need to do what’s right for Illinois before it’s too late to recover,” Biss said.
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