SPRINGFIELD – A state agency related to criminal justice on Wednesday, March 31 requested a funding increase to implement new policies and programs meant to improve racial equity and curb violence in Illinois, while the Illinois Department of Corrections outlined a decreased spending request.
The Illinois Senate Appropriations Criminal Justice Committee heard testimony regarding budget appropriations for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2022, which begins on July 1, for the Illinois Department of Corrections, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority and related entities, and the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice. The appropriations requests and other changes were contained in Senate Bills 382, 418, 649 and 2128.
The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority requested $47.1 million from the Illinois General Revenue Fund as part of a $273.8 million budget for fiscal year 2022. That includes $171.7 million in federal funding and the rest from other state funds.
The request is $1 million more than the $46.1 million ICJIA received from the General Revenue Fund in the current fiscal year. The budget was outlined in Senate Bill 418.
ICJIA’s task as a state agency is to improve how the administration of criminal justice is carried out by other state agencies and entities in Illinois. This is mostly done through awarding grants, conducting research and analysis, planning and writing policy, and improving information and technology used in criminal justice.
“ICJIA supported programs that promoted decarceration, prevented and reduced violence and restored communities,” Delrice Adams, ICJIA’s acting executive director, said in her testimony. “Despite the impact of COVID on the very vulnerable populations our programs serve, many grantees were resilient and creative in their approach to responding to the needs of individuals and families.”
The $1 million increase is to help the agency comply with new responsibilities established by the Safe-T Act, a massive criminal justice reform legislation signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in February. Several of the provisions in the new law require action by ICJIA, such as improved reporting for deaths in custody and research and data collection on pretrial practices, domestic violence and substance abuse.
According to testimony by ICJIA officials, $800,000 will go toward staffing related to the new duties, and $200,000 will go to ICJIA grant programs.
Outside of the proposed budget, ICJIA officials said the agency and the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts would need an additional $1-2 million funding increase between the two agencies to build the database and infrastructure required for the reporting requirements of the Safe-T Act.
Smaller entities tied to ICJIA also requested additional funding. Metropolitan Family Services, a nonprofit which engages in hyper-local street intervention to reduce gun violence and crime, requested a $2.9 million funding increase from its current level of $6.1 million to provide violence reduction services in more communities on Chicago’s south and west sides.
The Illinois Department of Corrections’ budget request was actually a decrease from what the agency was allotted in the current fiscal year, according to its director, Rob Jeffreys.
The budget request, outlined in Senate Bill 382, includes $1.54 billion from the General Revenue Fund and $97 million coming from other state sources. Jeffreys said that was a 10 percent reduction from the enacted appropriation for this year.
According to Jeffreys, the decrease was possible thanks to “evidence-based programming” and reforms meant to reduce recidivism for former prisoners and streamline corrections operations. As a result, Illinois’ prison population has decreased by 20 percent, to its lowest level since 1991, a feat Jeffreys said was accelerated by COVID-19.
Senate Bills 649 and 2128, both introduced by Chicago Democrat Sen. Robert Peters, are meant to address inequities suffered by Illinois’ incarcerated population, which is overwhelmingly and disproportionately non-white.
SB 649 would mandate that persons committed to IDOC or IDJJ who work as part of a work release, training or correctional industries program be paid the state minimum wage.
Witnesses testifying on behalf of the bill compared the state’s current minimum wage for prisoners, 18 cents per hour, to slavery. Brian Harrison of Chicago Votes told lawmakers that during his 13-year incarceration, from ages 14 to 27, his full-time work as a janitor netted him $28 dollars a month.
Peters’ bill would raise IDOC prisoner wages to $9.25 an hour and raise the pay unemployed prisoners receive from the state from $10 per month to $270 per month. The former would cost $127 million annually, the latter would cost $62 million annually.
However, both incomes would be taxable by the state and federal government, and witnesses testified that most prisoners spend their money on goods sold by correctional facilities, which would circulate some of the money back to the state.
SB 2128 would add an additional $3.3 million to IDOC’s general revenue budget, exclusively for the purpose of restoring educational staff serving persons in IDOC custody to 2006 levels. The funds will be used to hire 31 educators and 19 vocational instructors.
If passed, it would be a 0.21 percent increase in IDOC’s FY2022 general revenue fund appropriation sought by Jeffreys.
“This is about making sure that we fund and hire the educators we need at the Department of Corrections, especially when it comes to this conversation of rehabilitation,” Peters said.