(Springfield, IL) – Drug treatment advocates and state lawmakers today unveiled legislation at a press conference in Springfield to tackle the unyielding escalation of minorities sentenced to Illinois prisons.
Representatives from Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, Inc. (TASC) and State Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago), left, called for the swift enactment of legislation to create a Racial Impact Study Commission.
The proposed commission would examine the impact of Illinois drug laws on minorities or those of lower economic status, according to Hunter.
“No legislature sets out to make a law that disproportionately imprisons a particular racial community, but I believe that Illinois’ criminal justice laws unintentionally yield that result,” said Hunter, the chief sponsor of Senate Bill 2476.
In 2005, African-Americans in Illinois were 9 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, ranking Illinois 14th worst in the nation—well above the national average of 5.6 times more likely.
Pam Rodriguez, executive vice president of TASC, below, a statewide organization that advocates for community-based alternatives to incarceration for non-violent, drug-involved offenders, says Illinois public policy, in large measure—not increases in crime rates—is driving the higher incarceration among minorities.
Rodriguez said the bill requires an analysis of the racial or ethnic impact of drug laws and will enable policy makers to better anticipate the effect of policy changes on the communities while maintaining a law’s deterrent affect.
“Guilty people will still pay the price, do the time for their crime,” said Rodriguez. “It just means that African-Americans and Hispanics and Asians and Caucasians will have an equal chance of doing the same time.”
In addition to the Racial Impact Study Commission, Hunter and a bi-partisan group of legislators, including State Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago), left, have pledged to secure $10 million, Senate Bill 1442, as a ‘downpayment’ to bring to scale a comprehensive, statewide drug treatment plan.
Conceived by the Center for Health & Justice at TASC, the plan would ultimately require $125.7 million per year for community-based treatment of 25,000 non-violent, drug-involved offenders, annually saving taxpayers $223 million given the decrease in incarceration.
Rodriguez added, “This plan reverses the state’s current approach of tinkering at the margins.”
The fate of both bills remains uncertain this year.
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