Legislation overhauling the state’s criminal code has garnered broad support from criminal justice groups, including prosecutors and public defenders, and is now now headed to the full House.
The three-year effort, led by the state’s Criminal Code Evaluation Commission, composed of legislators, judges and attorneys, has produced a new sentencing structure. Current law divides felonies into four levels, A through D. Legislation would divide them into six levels, one through six.
Current law allows felons to reduce their sentence by 50 percent. For every day of good behavior, they get credit for a second day. The proposed legislation changes that by requiring offenders to serve 75 percent of their sentence. It also reduces the amount of credit time earned through obtaining a college degree from four years to two.
Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) says the commission went line-by-line through the code, addressing each crime. He says that will bring consistency that had been lost since the 1970s, when the criminal code was rewritten.
“All these criminal laws were being looked at in isolation, one at a time, over 30 or 40 years. As that process rolled out, you ended up with totally disproportionate crimes,” he says. “You’d have some drug offenders getting much stiffer penalties than violent rapists.”
To balance that out, the bill reduces the penalties for lower-level felonies. Rep. Greg Steuerwald (R-Danville) says it also gives greater flexibility to judges.
“We’ve enabled and empowered the trial courts to consider the facts in every case and make its determination and we’ve actually increased and given the trial courts to suspend these lower-level crimes,” he says.
Pierce says the state would now focus more on rehabilitation of low-level offenders.
“We wanted to have people being dealt with in a way that was going to break the cycle, not just kind of warehouse people for a while and have them back on the street with the same problems they went into prison with,” he says.
Steuerwald says the bill provides money to improve probation services around the state to aid in that effort.