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Prison recidivism projected to cost Illinois more than $13 billion over next five years

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A new report shows prison recidivism could cost Illinois more than $13 billion over the next five years.

The study by the Sentencing Policy Advisory Council found 43 percent of people released from Illinois prisons each year recidivate within three years and 17 percent within one year.

Illinois Justice Project Deputy Director Sharone Mitchell Jr. said the report should sound alarm bells.

“I think it shows that we should be talking about the recidivism crisis in the same tones that we talk about the property and pension crisis,” he said.

Mitchell credited Gov. Bruce Rauner with movement on the issue, but said there’s more work to be done.

“We are kind of biting along the corners and moving in the right direction, but I think this report should be a call that it’s time to kind of turn the ship around,” he said.

How does Illinois do that? Mitchell said the answer is drastic change.

“In the end, we’re going to have to think about having a total overhaul on how we do three things,” he said. “That is who goes to prison and who doesn’t.”

The other two steps would be better preparing prisoners for life after release and ensuring access to housing, education and jobs.

Mitchell pointed to the Governor’s Commission on Criminal Justice Reform as a positive.

“We need to go further and follow his lead and continue to kind of reform the criminal justice system,” he said.

The good news is that recidivism rates are lower than previously estimated in 2015. Only 11 percent of more than 71,000 convictions were of individuals with no prior arrests. The study also found that the average cost associated with one recidivism event is $151,662. That number includes law enforcement resources, costs for courts, county jails and state prisons, and the price of imposing sentences such as community supervision.

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