State Sen. Daniel Biss says the criminal justice system in Illinois has created a giant collection of nearly-unemployable people.

At a forum he organized in Evanston this afternoon at the Levy Center, Biss said he wants to open a dialogue about reforming that system.

Panelists at the forum were Todd Belcore, an attorney with the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law; Laura Brookes, policy director of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities and Mary Ann Dyor, program administrator for Adult Redeploy Illinois.

Panelists Belcore, Brookes and Dyor.

The panelists noted that nearly 10 percent of the state’s budget is spent on public safety — the Department of Corrections and the state police — and that it costs taxpayers $21,500 a year to keep an inmate locked up for a year.

And they agreed that that the stigma created by arrest records leads to increased rates of homelessness and unemployment because landlords won’t rent to and recruiters won’t hire people who’ve served time, even for nonviolent offenses.

One audience member offered her own story supporting that claim — saying she’d lived in Evanston 20 years and had graduated from Northwestern Unversity. But after being arrested for what she described as “protesting a police officer” over four years ago she was convicted of a misdemeanor and hasn’t been able to find a job since.

“I’m so glad I own my house,” she said, “because if I didn’t, I’d be homeless.”

Some of the residents who turned out for the panel discussion.

Biss said he didn’t expect to see any huge changes in the system quickly — especially with lawmakers up for election next year.

He said a broader coalition is building to address the reforms, “but it’s going to be a decade of gradual steps.”

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  1. A tent city prison is the answer

    Someone please inform our good state Sen. Democrat Daniel Biss that Illinois has reinstated the early release program. This happened after Democrat Governor Pat Quinn released thousands of inmates from jail after serving only weeks in prison under a previous secretive early release program. Many of them went on to commit violent crime and were rearrested.

    One of those men was convicted for brutally attacking a woman in 2008. After getting six months shaved off his sentence under the program and spending a year in jail, he spent just 14 days in prison – and was arrested the next day on suspicion of assault.

    Under this new early release law, inmates must serve at least 60 days in jail. Feel safer now? 

    Joshua Jones was released from prison after serving 19 months of his four year sentence of dealing cocaine and heroine. Jones was also caught with an illegal firearm at his arrest but that charge was dropped in a plea deal. Under Jones' review, prison officials did NOT know he had an illegal firearm during his arrest and so they gave him credits and he was released in May under the state's new early release program. Jones then went on to shoot and kill Marvin Perry,  a father of a 19 month old baby.

    Oregon did away with their early release program and Minnesota is taking another look at theirs after a study showed 40 percent of early release offenders fail on supervised release.

    A federal judge this summer ordered California to release prisoners early. Democrat Governor Jerry Brown has opted to fight the ruling and take it to the Supreme Court.  California has struggled for years to contain its rising prison population, which at its height reached 163,000 in 2006. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state must reduce prison overcrowding, and judges have since recommended that inmate numbers be cut from their current level of 119,000 to roughly 110,000 by the end of this year.

    Someone tell liberal Biss that there is already a proven solution to relieve prison overcrowding. It's called Tent City and it has been around for two decades.  Prisoners are given pink underwear and they work in chain-gangs. Arizona had an overcrowded prison population 20 years ago and lawmakers were reluctant to spend $70 million to build a new prison. Sheriff Joe created Tent City at a cost of $100,000 that could hold the same amount of inmates as a traditional prison!!!

    Charles Barkley and former Cub Mark Grace served time in Tent City, which is so popular there are tours. If Tent City is good enough for Barkley, Grace and the Occupy Movement that set up tent cities across the nation – it's good for convicted criminals.

    It's time politicians think outside the box. You do the crime you do the time. And you do HARD time where prison is a place you really don't want to go. Time served has NOTHING to do with someone's employability. 

    1. Inhumanity equals lawsuits

      Anonymous Al: It's important to note that Maricopa County is paying out a fortune in inmate lawsuits because of the inhumane treatment of prisoners by the Arpaio regime. So much for the sheriff's so-called brilliant $100,000 money-saving prison.

      1. Tent City

        Billyjoe, nobody will be writing an ode to you. Tent City has been repeatedly been pegged as one of the most successful projects in the US. Positive postings outnumber the negative ones by nearly 15 to 1. As far as the lawsuits, almost all have been dismissed. Those filed by Eric Holder are considered a badge of honor, since Holder is generally consider to have used his office for his personnal political purposes.

        1. Blinders on

          "Those filed by Eric Holder are considered a badge of honor, since Holder is generally consider to have used his office for his personnal political purposes."

          Okay, so I guess if it involves some Tea Bagger's selective perception, this means that Holder's lawsuit really isn't one.

          Yeesh. Glad you have the ability to make it all right in your mind.

  2. What else makes someone unemployable?

    It is the lack of meaningful education, including job skills, when a person leaves high school that is making vast numbers of people nearly unemployable as well. Part of the blame is on the educational system but part of the blame also rests with the individual and the individual's family. 

    Having a criminal record then makes these individuals virtually unemployable. Obtaining a criminal record is almost always something in which the individual plays the deciding factor — will I commit a criminal act or not?

    While the criminal justice system should be improved, Mr. Biss, please take a look at how to offer all students  meaningful job training in high school, as well as training in making good life choices and how to be personally responsible for yourself and your choices. 

    Most people with living wage jobs and a decent future who have a good idea how to make intelligent life choices (postponing having children until you can afford them and only having the number of children that you can afford, staying away from illegal activity and not associating with those who engage it in, going to bed at a reasonable hour so you can get up and go to work the next morning, keeping your social media accounts private in case an employer is looking for information — rightly or wrongly) do not wind up in jail or prison.  Personal responsibility needs to be taught along with meaningful job skills. 

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