Jail overcrowding still a problem in Illinois despite decreasing incarceration rate

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois (Illinois News Network) — Illinois incarceration rates are declining, but watchdogs still warn the state’s prisons are overcrowded and dangerous.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released information about incarceration rates across the country, and even though incarceration rates have gone down in Illinois, there are other issues that still require solutions, according to an independent corrections monitor.

Illinois has the 22nd lowest incarceration rate in the country, the bureau report said, and the number of people incarcerated in Illinois dropped from 46,240 to 43,657 from Dec. 31, 2015, to the end of 2016.

But Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the John Howard Association, said even though incarceration rates have gone down, Illinois prisons are still overcrowded.

“Originally, Illinois’ system was designed to hold just over 28,000 inmates. We’ve always seen the number of 32,000,” Vollen-Katz said. “Either number you use, that still points to a prison system that is way overpopulated.”

Packed prisons come at a cost for the state.

“We spend a lot of money to house, clothe, feed and treat prison inmates,” Vollen-Katz said. “We spend about $22,000 per inmate, per year.”

When factoring in all the marginal costs to care for inmates, the number goes up to about $36,000 per inmate, per year, she said.