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New Illinois law could curb recidivism by connecting inmates, communities

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(The Center Square) – A new Illinois law is a step toward helping former inmates make a smoother transition back to their communities upon their release, a justice advocate said.

House Bill 1496, which takes effect in January, was signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker earlier this month. The measure strengthens community connections for Illinois inmates by requiring the departments of Corrections and Juvenile Justice to record each inmate’s last-known street address and demographic data. That information is then passed on to the U.S. Census Bureau, which can direct resources to communities based on accurate population data.

“That goes to help reduce recidivism because most of the people that are currently imprisoned in our prisons are going to come home,” Avalon Betts-Gaston, project manager of Illinois Alliance for Reentry & Justice, told The Center Square. “The message of belonging is very, very, very important for our incarcerated neighbors.”

Although landing in prison delivers inmates a message of exile, a far healthier message is that of community cohesion, which reduces the likelihood of individuals exhibiting antisocial behavior, according to Betts-Gaston. This message says they still have a community that they’re coming home to and that “your voice matters to this community.”

As a side point, she notes that although recidivism is often the gold standard for measuring success, a better standard would be keeping people out of the prison system in the first place.

The bill also deals with the equitable allocation of resources. More than half of Cook County’s inmates are in jail outside their home county, but statistics show most will return to Cook once their time is served, she said. These home counties and communities need census-driven resources, she said, especially those devastated by the war on drugs and mass incarcerations.

“It’s really important that we count them there [in the community] so resources can be put in those communities,” Betts-Gaston said. “We need to begin to reverse the tide of divestment in those communities.”

The new legislation, which passed both the House and Senate mostly along party lines, amends the Unified Code of Corrections to prioritize the recording of the inmate’s last-known street address as well as ethnic and racial demographic data.

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