Time for Common Sense Reform

Do we need laws to protect our society? Of course! Should those who violate those laws face consequences? Naturally! Do we want community members to feel safe to sit on their front porches or go to the park? You know we do. So we agree on these. What we have not been able to agree on is how to ensure these things happen in just and effective ways.
Governor Bruce Rauner has appointed a Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform to assess our Illinois prison system and recommend much needed reforms both for budgetary reasons and because anyone who looks at our system knows it’s broken. The Commission has submitted an initial report (1 July 2015) that appears promising in its grasp of the issues facing both our system and the persons it purports to serve. The Commission is wonderfully diverse bringing legal experts, restorative justice advocates, academicians, analysts and others together to have a frank conversation, do the hard work of uncovering the realities of the current system through research and analysis, and the equally hard if not harder task of proposing economical, common sense responses to the problems at hand. This group seems ready and eager to invite the residents and lawmakers of Illinois to shift the rhetoric and programs that will affect communities affected by crime, address the consequences and needs of those who get caught up in illegal activity, and provide systemic structures for those who have completed their sentences and genuinely want to re-enter society as productive, engaged citizens.
Just getting “tough on crime” hasn’t been the answer. Our jails and prisons are overcrowded largely due to the long sentences being given non-violent offenders, the recidivism rate is over 50%, and we’re locking up addicts and mentally ill persons who need medical attention. Let’s get “smart on crime” instead. Let’s prevent crime before it starts, provide restorative justice methods to help those affected by crime to heal from violence, and offer treatment and education inside prisons. The latter recommendation is wise, not because prisoners “deserve” these things, but because they’ll be people who are more capable of supporting their families and themselves upon release and less likely to reoffend, thus making communities safer. Why not go to the roots of the problem: poverty, racism and underemployment, to name a few. It’s daunting, granted, but our go-to alternatives of retaliation, retribution and alienation certainly aren’t working.
I’m looking forward to seeing what the Commission concludes in the coming months and hope that we can begin to be “smart on crime.” Stay tuned.

About Dr. Christie Billups

Dr. Christie Billups is an assistant professor of Theology, Director of Pastoral Ministry, and Director of Service Learning at Lewis University. She has co-founded and co-directs the new Peace Studies Minor. She has been a practical, pastoral theologian in both academia and ministry in schools, jails, parishes, and hospitals. Some topics may include ministry with LGBT youth, juvenile justice, confronting racism, restorative justice and prison ministry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *