On Friday, November 19th, the United States House of Representatives passed a sweeping social safety and climate change spending bill, as part of President Biden’s agenda to broaden and improve America’s social safety net.
The Build Back Better bill is being hailed as the largest reform of social safety, education and health care in decades, and comes at the conclusion of bitter battles, both in Congressional chambers, and in our communities.
Workers Center for Racial Justice worked with our partner organizations across the country, including Community Change Action, to mobilize everyday voters to call their elected representatives urging them to vote for the Build Back Better agenda. Our members and supporters urged elected officials in Congress to provide robust funding for items such as expanding the Child Tax Credit, as well as an expansion of access to affordable health care for working families.
“This represents the largest investment in low-income and working class people in the history of this country”, said DeAngelo Bester, WCRJ Executive Director. “We are very excited to be a part of the work to get this bill passed out of the House, but the work is not done and there is still more to do in the Senate to get the bill to President Biden’s desk to be signed”.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where it can pass with a simple majority using budget reconciliation, but still faces some obstacles and opposition in getting enough votes to push the bill through. We will continue to engage with our community members and partner organizations to make sure this groundbreaking bill becomes law of the land.
This week Representative Kambium Buckner, in partnership with the Workers Center for Racial Justice, introduced a momentous justice reform bill (HB 4109) which would abolish Illinois' racially targeted system of Extended Terms sentencing for every felony level, and allow individuals who are currently serving extended terms sentences to petition the courts for retroactive re-sentencing.
More information can be found at: https://www.center4racialjustice.org/extendedterms
Extended Term sentencing is an overly punitive facet of Illinois' criminal code, which permits the courts to add long stretches of additional prison time onto already excessive sentences. In some cases Extended Terms can impose a fivefold increase on a person’s prison term.
In recent decades, the practice of Extended Term sentencing has been a key driver of mass incarceration in Illinois. Even as the state adopts new legislative reforms to reduce the prison population, the upward trend of increasingly long prison sentences has undercut this progress. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of people serving prison terms longer than 10 years in Illinois increased by 14%.
Moreover, by offering judges wide discretionary power to lengthen sentences on the basis of broadly defined factors, Extended Terms magnify racial bias in our court system. Between 2000 and 2015, the incarceration rate among Black men in the U.S. dropped by 24%. However, during this same period, the length of prison sentences for Black individuals has steadily increased at nearly twice the rate of white defendants.
Excessive prison terms have also proven to have no positive impacts on crime deterrence or recidivism rates. To the contrary, overly punitive and racially biased sentencing policies have only served to further aggravate the symptoms of structural inequality that erode public safety.
"We have made great strides in Illinois to create a legal system that truly has justice as its core component,” said Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Chair Kambium Buckner. “In order to continue to do that work in the best way possible, we have to pursue sentencing reform as well. Sentencing policy must be shaped in a way that produces rational, fair, and effective outcomes for communities and individuals. Extended Terms have driven mass incarceration and left our communities less whole, less safe, and further from true justice.”
By abolishing the destructive system of Extended Term sentencing practices, HB 4109 would promote safety, justice, and liberation in Illinois.
For more information visit: https://www.center4racialjustice.org/extendedterms or contact Louisa Manske at Workers Center for Racial Justice by email at email@example.com or phone at 773.787.9762.
Updated: Aug 1
This week, Illinois Representative Justin Slaughter, in partnership with the Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ), introduced the Securing All Futures through Equitable Reinvestment (SAFER) Communities Act. This groundbreaking legislation, which was crafted by WCRJ’s council of formerly incarcerated members, aims to dismantle the state’s destructive prison system, and equitably reinvest public resources back into local communities.
The SAFER Communities Act (HB 3215) would take critical steps to end Illinois’ inhumane and racially targeted practice of mass incarceration by reforming overly punitive sentencing laws. The measure would lower penalties for all felony categories and allow individuals who are currently incarcerated to petition the courts for retroactive re-sentencing.
The bill would also require Illinois to track and set aside public savings resulting from reductions in the state prison population. These earmarked funds would help finance a living wage job creation program for up to 20,000 formerly incarcerated workers. The SAFER Communities initiative would offer local businesses financial incentives for employing workers with conviction records into newly created high-quality jobs.
The unemployment level among people with conviction records is nearly five times the overall national rate. In Illinois, nearly half of all job seekers returning from incarceration are unable to obtain stable employment within eight months of release. Those who do secure work are compensated at significantly lower rates.
Without a pathway to opportunity, 43% of Illinoisans with conviction histories will return to prison within three years of their release. The rate of prison returns is correlated with both unemployment of lower wage work. This cycle of incarceration undermines the long term economic stability of impacted individuals, their families, and communities. Moreover, the current rate of reincarceration is projected to cost Illinois more than $13 billion over the next five years.
Given the current economic challenges Illinois faces, WCRJ calls upon lawmakers to divest critical public dollars away from the state’s toxic prison system, and responsibly reinvest in a more just, equitable, and prosperous Illinois. In order to spur job growth, support Illinois businesses, and boost the state economy, we urge the Pritzker administration and members of the Illinois General Assembly to prioritize passage of the SAFER Communities Act in the current legislative session.
WCRJ gratefully acknowledges Representative Justin Slaughter for his invaluable dedication in bringing this critical piece of legislation to the Illinois General Assembly.