(Chicago) – A recent poll of Illinois voters indicates strong support for criminal justice reform. More than two thirds (70 percent) agree that state prisons are overcrowded and require reform for people with non-violent offenses, and four in five (83 percent) support sending fewer individuals with low-risk, non-violent offenses to prison so that state funding can be used to keep people who have committed violent offenses incarcerated for their full sentences.
The number of people behind bars in the U.S. has grown more than 500 percent over the past four decades, and U.S. incarceration rate tops the charts. In line with public opinion, policymakers are reversing their appetite for tough-on-crime policies that have fueled record incarceration rates. In fact, criminal justice reform stands apart as one of the only issues on which individuals across political parties are unified in their support.
There also is a growing understanding of the extremely high rates of substance use and mental health disorders among people involved in the criminal justice system, and of the need to address these problems earlier in the lifespan as a critical part of criminal justice reforms, before medical and behavioral health problems become advanced, and before the often lifelong collateral consequences of a conviction block individuals’ efforts to reenter communities, lead productive lives, and avoid future criminal behavior, re-arrest, and re-incarceration.
In 2013, TASC’s Center for Health and Justice (CHJ) conducted a national survey of criminal justice diversion programs and practices, to explore the landscape of diversion at the front end of the system—by law enforcement, by prosecutors and pre-trial service agencies, and by courts. CHJ is currently conducting an Illinois survey to explore the use of diversion programs and practices at phases of justice system involvement prior to conviction and sentencing, with a special focus on those operated by prosecutors, and plans to release a report with findings and recommendations later this year.