From perspectives of justice, equality, and fiscal responsibility, one of the most important issues facing Illinois and the nation is that of disproportionate minority contact with the justice system. In 2008, Human Rights Watch reported that Illinois had the dubious distinction of being ranked amongst the top ten states with the greatest racial disparities in prison admissions for drug offenses. Disturbingly, this disparity could not readily be explained by a discrepancy in illicit drug usage. The National and Illinois household surveys on drug abuse show that though the total number of drug users is overwhelmingly white – just under 80 percent nationally and 81 percent in Illinois – people incarcerated on drug offenses are overwhelmingly minorities. The Illinois Department of Corrections reports that most of those incarcerated (80 percent) subsequently return to just ten areas throughout the state, and many return to a small number of communities in close geographic proximity. This mass incarceration puts already destabilized neighborhoods and communities into even further disarray, and has had a devastating impact on minority communities and their children.
Recognizing the implications of these realities for our state, the Commission to Study Disproportionate Justice Impact Act was passed by the Illinois General Assembly unanimously and signed into law by the Governor in 2008. The Act established a commission to ascertain the impact of drug laws on racial and ethnic minority individuals and communities in Illinois. This month marks the official release of the commission’s report, a culmination of almost two years worth of research, data analysis, and public hearings. The study looks not only at the extent of the harm caused to minority communities in Illinois, but also presents recommendations for legislative, policy, and practice changes. The results of this study will have a far-reaching impact on state public policy, criminal justice agencies, and not-for-profits and private agencies.
The DJIS Commission Report will be released on January 31, 2011
Diane Williams, IACJ Chairperson, is Chair of the American Corrections Association’s Disproportionate Minority Contact/Confinement Task Force. The Center for Health and Justice at TASC, under the leadership of IACJ Vice Chairperson Pamela Rodriguez, provided staff support to the commission.