From: Malik S. Nevels, J.D.
Executive Director, Illinois African American Coalition for Prevention
|The Illinois African American Coalition for Prevention (ILAACP) applauds Governor Bruce Raunerâ€™s recent decision to restore almost $26 million in grant cuts to services that directly affect the livelihood of Illinoisâ€™ underserved communities.
We also commend Governor Raunerâ€™s establishment of an Illinois Criminal Justice Reform Commission, which signals a long overdue shift in the way our state seeks to address the unsustainable drain that the criminal justice system inflicts upon our economy and communities. However, we, the governor, commissioners, and state legislators must keep in mind that any serious discussion about reform and release must be accompanied by an equally serious discussion about restoring, and potentially increasing, funds for supportive services that help ex-offenders get re-acclimated and keep youth from coming into contact with the criminal justice system in the first place.
The report, After Prison: Roadblocks to Reentry, published by the Legal Action Center, documents the astronomical challenges faced by previously incarcerated individuals. Without a job, it is impossible to provide for oneself and oneâ€™s family. Without a driverâ€™s license, it is harder to find or keep a job. Without affordable housing, or food stamps, or access to alcohol, drug, or mental health treatment, it is harder to lead a stable, productive life. Without the ability to adopt or raise foster children, or access a college loan, it is harder to become a fully engaged citizen. These challenges hinder the reintegration of people with criminal records, which, in turn, compromises everyoneâ€™s safety and the well-being of our communities.
As much as we want to have individuals without violent backgrounds released from prison, we understand that the pipeline to prison is a cycle that can only be broken with support. We are justifiably concerned that reform and release without jobs and support will especially and adversely affect Illinoisâ€™ African American communities. While African Americans are only 14% of Illinoisâ€™ population, we represent 56% of those who are incarcerated in state prisons and jails. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 97% of ex-offenders, when released, return to the communities from which they came. As one can reasonably surmise, our stateâ€™s African American communities, which are already struggling with open-air drug markets, wanton violence, and economic destabilization, have the most at stake when it comes to criminal justice reform. And itâ€™s not unreasonable to wonder whether we would even entertain reform while at the same time cutting prevention and re-entry services if these same prisoners were going to be returning to high net-worth Illinois communities like Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe, or Highland Park.
After watching the recent events unfold in New York, Baltimore, and Ferguson, and acknowledging the disproportionate number of African Americans that have been incarcerated for non-violent offenses, it is undeniable that we have a criminal justice system in desperate need of reform. At the same time, however, implementing reform and release without providing a coordinated service delivery system for ex-offenders, or cutting funding for prevention services that steer youth toward paths of opportunity, unfairly risks the safety of communities that are already under siege. While no one wants to see Chicago, Peoria, or East St. Louis go the way of New York, Baltimore, or Ferguson, in the absence of these types of programs, we are simply biding our time. To that end, we call on Governor Rauner and our state legislators to demonstrate compassion by restoring funds for re-entry and prevention programs in the stateâ€™s FY16 budget. This is not only the right thing to do but it will go a long way toward ensuring safer, healthier, and more resilient children, families, and communities.
Malik S. Nevels, J.D.