Task force seeks cutting Illinois female prison population

CHICAGO (AP) — A proposal by reform advocates would cut the number of women locked up in Illinois prisons by as much as half.

Nearly 2,300 women are now serving time in Illinois, the Chicago Tribune reported . Reform advocates argue that the corrections system has largely ignored the needs of female inmates, many of whom suffered years of trauma, abuse or poverty before winding up behind bars.

“Prisons were made for men, and they are made to traumatize,” Celia Colon said after sharing with the group her history of abuse. “They were not made for healing.”

A 100-member all-female task force made up of experts, current and former prison officials, and formerly incarcerated women recently announced a seven-year effort to bring down the number of women in the Illinois Department of Corrections by 50 percent.

“This is a first in the nation,” said Deanne Benos, a former Illinois corrections official who is leading the effort. “One hundred women, all women, coming together to build and plan and cut the women’s prison population by 50 percent or more.”

The task force, which includes Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, is planning to take a wide range of options under consideration, including changing laws and designing more social service programs.

Benos partnered for the project with national prison reform expert Alyssa Benedict in 2014 to write up an assessment of Logan Correctional Center, which had recently been converted to the state’s main women’s prison.

Their report highlighted red flags, including women’s security risks being overstated, reducing their chances for early release or alternate programming.

The report also found a growing body of research on the troubled backgrounds of incarcerated women in the state. According to studies done on Illinois’ prison system, 98 percent of the women have experienced physical abuse at some point in their lives.