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, more than 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.