FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Loyola University Chicago Associate Dean Leads Statewide Study on Illinois’ Criminal Justice System
Study Reports 19% of African American Defendants Sentenced to Prison for Low-Level Drug Crimes Compared with the 4% of White Defendants
CHICAGO, February 22, 2011 – Loyola University Chicago’s Arthur Lurigio PhD, associate dean for faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of psychology and criminal justice, participated as lead investigator in the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission’s (IDJISC) most recent study, which found that people of color, particularly African-Americans, are disproportionately prosecuted and sent to prison for drug crimes in Illinois.
The IDJISC was established by law in 2008 as a non-partisan group of policymakers, agency leaders, and justice professionals charged with examining the impact of Illinois drug laws on racial and ethnic groups. The commission was co-chaired by State Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) and State Representative Arthur L. Turner (D-Chicago), with members named by the law or appointed by State Senate and House leaders. Dr. Lurigio joined the commission as lead investigator after an alarming wake-up call from a similar study.
“I joined the IDJISC after a Human Rights Watch (HRW) study, one of the world’s leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights, showed that Illinois led the nation on disproportionate minority confinement for drug-law violations,” said Dr. Lurigio. “My work is aimed at reducing race-based sentencing disparities in the criminal justice system in Illinois, especially for drug crimes.”
Furthermore, in its independent research, the study found that among defendants charged with a Class 4, low-level drug possession, 19 percent of African-American defendants were sentenced to prison, compared with 4 percent of white defendants, and in Cook County, the disparity was even greater. African-Americans in Cook County arrested only for Class 4 possession were eight times more likely than whites to be sentenced to prison. Additionally, statewide arrest data indicated that disproportionality in drug arrests occurred in 62 of Illinois’ 102 counties, including urban, suburban, and rural areas. Racial disparities for drug arrests varied widely by county but tended to be greater in jurisdictions with smaller populations of non-white residents.
“When it comes to arrests and prosecution for drug crimes, racial disproportionality affects communities in urban, suburban, and rural areas across Illinois,” said Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC) President Pamela Rodriguez, whose organization provided research support to the commission. “The problem of disproportionate incarceration undermines the fundamental principles of a just society. It also creates a burden for every taxpayer.”
The IDJISC’s focus now needs to be on solutions, contending that the Illinois General Assembly and Governor Pat Quinn should get behind the commission’s key recommendations to erase the disproportionate arrest and imprisonment of African-Americans involved in low-level drug crimes in Illinois.
Key recommendations include:
1. Institute Racial & Ethnic Impact Statements: Legislators should be able to request the attachment of a Racial & Ethnic Impact Statement to bills or appropriation measures that impact criminal offenses and penalties, as well as sentencing, probation, or parole policies.
2. Expand Sentencing Alternatives: The State of Illinois and local governments should support jurisdictions in maximizing their use of diversionary programs and sentencing alternatives, including day-reporting centers, drug schools, drug courts and other specialty courts, first-offender probation, and designated program supervision.
3. Reduce Barriers to Employment: In criminal background checks conducted for employers, the State of Illinois should prohibit the inclusion of drug-related arrests without conviction.
4. Use Drug Forfeiture Funds to Address the Problem: Jurisdictions should define a fixed portion of existing drug asset forfeiture funds to support treatment and diversion programs in addition to enforcement and prosecution activities.
5. Fund Alternatives to Incarceration: The State of Illinois should establish budget policy and priorities to promote full utilization of existing diversion programs or alternatives to incarceration, as well as the accompanying planning processes and training as supported by Adult Redeploy Illinois.
About Loyola University Chicago
Committed to preparing people to lead extraordinary lives, Loyola University Chicago, founded in 1870, is the nation’s largest Jesuit, Catholic university. Enrollment is nearly 16,000 students, which includes almost 10,000 undergraduates hailing from all 50 states and 82 countries. The University has four campuses: three in the greater Chicago area and one in Rome, Italy. Loyola also serves as the U.S. host university to The Beijing Center for Chinese Studies in Beijing, China and now features an academic center in Saigon-Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Loyola’s 10 schools and colleges include arts and sciences, business administration, communication, education, graduate studies, law, medicine, nursing, continuing and professional studies, and social work. Loyola offers 71 undergraduate majors, 71 undergraduate minors, 85 master’s degrees, and 31 doctoral degrees. Loyola is consistently ranked among the “top national universities” by U.S.News & World Report, and the University is among a select group of universities recognized for community service and engagement by prestigious national organizations, such as the Carnegie Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service. For more information about Loyola, please visit LUC.edu/.