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HomeIllinois NewsReeder: Time to stop making prisoners pay for their own incarceration costs

Reeder: Time to stop making prisoners pay for their own incarceration costs




By Scott Reeder - 

SPRINGFIELD — Sometimes it seems state lawmakers are determined to keep punishing people even after their debts to society have been paid.

A good case in point is a law that was put on the books back in the 1980s that allows the state to sue inmates and force them to pay for the cost of their incarcerations.

I remember when that law was debated more than a quarter of a century ago. I thought the measure was mean-spirited and of little value then. And I still do.

In case our lawmakers haven’t noticed, our prisons are full of people who were reared in poverty and whose potential for rising out of it is limited by their felony records.

Suing someone for the cost of their incarceration reminds me of the Chinese practice under Mao Zedong of billing family members of executed prisoners for the cost of the bullet.

It’s just plain mean.

Instead of trying to heap more punishment on the newly-released, Illinois should do everything it can to help them get back on their feet.

But Illinois doesn’t.

For example, under state licensing laws, felons can be barred from more than a hundred vocations.

We should be doing everything we can to help folks get jobs. That’s why we should eliminate such barriers.

And that’s how I feel about this nonsense of suing folks for the cost of their incarcerations.

And apparently I’m not the only one who feels that way.

New legislation would repeal the practice of suing prisoners and parolees for the cost of their incarceration.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, and State Sen. Daniel Biss , D-Evanston, have introduced bills in the legislature that would prohibit the Illinois Department of Corrections from suing inmates for the cost of their room and board. 

“The odds are stacked against the men and women coming out of our prison system and attempting to put their lives back together. Any barrier to reentry is a path to recidivism. We need to be doing everything in our power to remove those barriers, not add more,” Cassidy said.

She couldn’t be more right. 

Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and a journalist with Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at [email protected].  Readers can subscribe to his free political newsletter by going to ILNEWS.ORG or follow his work on Twitter @scottreeder


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  1. I would like it if folks like sex offenders were prevented from say being electricians and other home contractors through a licensing program and were prevented from working inside of our homes.
    I was blown away that the sex offender that approached my six year old daughter on the school play ground had been arrested multiple times before, worked for his fathers electrical company, and had access to area homes without the knowledge of the homeowners of his sex offender status.
    Cry me a river for all the poor folks that end up in jail. Yeah 3 years with only 1-1/2 served is way too short in my mind for the offender that approached my daughter. Many of them deserve to be there and can’t control their impulses. Instead of fencing in our playgrounds we should keep those who have already had their second and third chances fenced inside a jail. It is worth every penny to protect the innocent victims. I believe that this narrative that our jails are filled with people that don’t belong there is a false narrative.