Rethinking Illinois’ Truth-In-Sentencing Law
By Joseph Dole
Many are aware of the dire fiscal state that Illinois currently finds itself in. One of the main causes of this has been years of passing laws without any consideration of the financial burdens of their enactment, and one of the most egregious examples concerns Illinois’ Truth-in-Sentencing law.
Truth-in-Sentencing in Illinois requires that nearly all violent offenders serve 85 to 100 percent of their criminal sentences. Prior to the current Truth-in-Sentencing law’s 1998 enactment, offenders served, on average, 44 percent of their sentences. For more than a decade Illinois resisted enacting a Truth-in-Sentencing law when other states rushed to do so. Instead, Illinois increased sentencing ranges for violent crimes. The State didn’t pass its Truth-in-Sentencing law until after the federal government monetarily incentivized Truth-in-Sentencing legislation. Although this legislation was enacted in Illinois over a decade-and-a-half ago, not a single comprehensive cost/benefit analysis has been undertaken to determine what monetary effect enactment has had on the State.
Other states that enacted Truth-in-Sentencing legislation adjusted for it by reducing sentences so the average imposed sentence was about half of what it was before enactment. That way prisoners ended up serving around the same amount of time in prison and didn’t cost the state additional money. Illinois, on the other hand, failed to make such an adjustment. Instead, Illinois judges actually increased average sentences imposed or continued issuing similar criminal sentences, which resulted in longer terms of incarceration due to the newly mandated Truth-in-Sentencing good conduct time provisions. With the sentencing ranges having already been increased, Illinois taxpayers have continued to be hit twice as hard: once for the existing sentencing scheme and effectively again due to the Truth-in-Sentencing legislation.