Statement on the Illinois Budget Impasse

June 29, 2016:  Statement on the Illinois Budget Impasse

The petty, irresponsible infighting between Illinois’ executive and legislative leaders must end. Real lives are being destroyed, and state systems and agencies that citizens rely on as lifelines to basic necessities and care are being decimated. Illinois’ government is founded on a basic democratic principal that our elected officials, as representatives of the people, have a duty to promote the public welfare and common good. Republicans and Democrats alike have not only abrogated this duty, they have violated the public’s trust by once more failing to pass a budget. Caught in a game of political brinksmanship between the Illinois Governor and Legislature, public services and institutions that are critical to ordinary citizens are being irreparably damaged, if not destroyed, as are the lives of those who rely on them.

Illinois’ unending budget impasse effectively prevents our state from engaging in much needed and desired bipartisan criminal justice reform that, if implemented, would reduce costs and increase public safety and reentry success. The ongoing absence of a state budget now threatens the ability of Illinois’ prisons to function at a basic level. As the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, John Baldwin, acknowledged in a public letter earlier this month, the continuing budget impasse jeopardizes the Department’s capacity to meet inmates’ basic human needs including food, water, and electricity. Director Baldwin further warned that absent a budget the Department will be “severely challenged” to provide legally obligated minimum constitutional levels of care to inmates with mental illness. He further notes that while his agency has done its best to make do without a budget, “we are now on the precipice of real issues that could lead to lasting consequences.” Embroiled in the budget stalemate, Illinois elected officials are not only acting short-sightedly, they are ignoring the important fact that lack of funds is not a justification for the State to deprive its citizens, including prisoners, of basic constitutional rights which clearly include food, water, and medical services.

Despite clearly stated goals by the executive and legislative branches to reduce Illinois’ reliance on incarceration and to improve justice system outcomes, the current budget deadlock undercuts the prospects of criminal justice reform. By taking away necessary and proven programs – from diversion programs like Redeploy, which has demonstrated cost savings by treating adults and youth in their communities leading to reduced recidivism and increased public safety, to valuable prison educational and vocational programs and reentry services - Illinois is abandoning cost-saving and life-improving change. This, in turn, will increase the expensive and ineffective use of incarceration, which Illinois cannot afford and does not want. Political posturing must end and a budget must be passed or Illinois will only increase state debt, undermine public safety, worsen the conditions of confinement, and decrease the likelihood of improving the lives and outcomes for individuals, Illinois’ criminal justice system, and the communities in which we all live.

Contact: Jennifer Vollen-Katz
Executive Director, John Howard Association of Illinois
PH: (312) 291-9555
Email: jvollen@thejha.org