Report: Recidivism to cost Illinois more than $13B over next 5 years
Even a small decrease in the recidivism rate can yield millions of dollars in taxpayer savings while improving public safety.
The criminal justice system should hold offenders accountable for violations of the law. But often overlooked are the laws that perpetuate a broken system after offenders have paid their debt to society.
Recidivism – reoffending – saddles Illinois with heavy social and fiscal costs. A report released July 23 by Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council, or SPAC, found that combined costs borne by taxpayers and victims of crime, as well as indirect economic costs, will rob Illinois of more than $13 billion over the next five years.
The high cost of recidivism
SPAC’s new report, updating a previous recidivism study released in 2015, finds the average cost for one incidence of recidivism in Illinois is nearly $151,700, half of which is incurred by victims. This may come, for example, in the form of medical bills or stolen property. Taxpayers, who fund law enforcement, courts and incarcerations, shoulder about one-third, or nearly $51,000 of the cost. The remaining $25,400 is lost indirectly to diminished economic activity.
These costs add up quickly, with the report estimating these instances of recidivism will cost the state a total of $13 billion over the next five years.
While 96 percent of those incarcerated will eventually be released from prison, according to the report, a discouraging number find their way back each year. More than 40 percent of those released from prison each year recidivate within three years of release, while 17 percent will reoffend within just one year. Repeat offenders make up an overwhelming majority of annual incarcerations. Of the 71,551 convictions processed in Illinois in 2016, only 11 percent admitted had no prior criminal history.
The way forward
Reducing the overall recidivism rate by just one percentage point means Illinois would see nearly 600 fewer convictions, and save more than $90 million over nine years, SPAC estimates. Those savings would recover $30 million in taxpayer dollars, $45 million in costs to victims and $15 million in foregone economic activity.
Lowering the state’s recidivism rate would produce fewer crimes, less victimization and significant taxpayer savings. The report estimates a 10 percent reduction in the state’s recidivism rate would generate more than $301 million in taxpayer savings. These are funds that could then be reallocated toward enhancing core services. A 10 percent recidivism rate reduction would also bring more than $150 million in economic activity.
Enabling ex-offenders to reenter the workforce after having paid their debts to society is fundamental to reducing Illinois’ recidivism rate. Reducing burdensome barriers to employment, such as occupational licensure, and limiting risks posed to prospective employers, such as negligent-hiring liability, would help deliver employment security to ex-offenders, therefore limiting the potential for recidivism. Moreover, allowing nonviolent ex-offenders to apply to have their criminal record sealed would help tilt the odds of finding gainful employment in their favor.
Reducing the recidivism rate also means reducing the incarceration rate. In February 2015, Gov. Bruce Rauner formed the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, a task force established to develop policies that would safely reduce Illinois’ prison population by 25 percent by 2025. Data show the Land of Lincoln’s incarceration rate is indeed on the decline.
Lawmakers and the governor have made some significant advances toward creating a more just and cost-effective criminal justice system. But as the SPAC report shows, there is ample room for improvement. As Springfield reconvenes for fall session, lawmakers would be wise to take SPAC’s findings to heart, and continue to build on past bipartisan successes in advancing criminal justice reform.