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.”

Category: News

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