A 100-member all-female task force of experts, current and former prison officials and formerly incarcerated women are starting a seven-year effort to lower the number of women in the Illinois Department of Corrections.
The number of women locked up in Illinois prisons would be cut by as much as half under an ambitious proposal by reform advocates, the Chicago Tribune reports. They argue that the corrections system has largely ignored the needs of female inmates, many of whom suffered years of trauma, abuse or poverty before winding up behind bars. Though their numbers are dwarfed by the size of the male prison population, nearly 2,300 women are now serving time in Illinois. With 8 of every 10 female inmates a mother and often the primary parent, their removal from society has damaging ripple effects on families and neighborhoods.
On Wednesday, a 100-member all-female task force of experts, current and former prison officials and formerly incarcerated women will announce a seven-year effort to lower the number of women in the Illinois Department of Corrections. The task force, which includes Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, will study a wide range of options, from changing laws to designing more social service programs. Formerly incarcerated women met for the first time to discuss the project last month at Grace House, a residential program in Chicago for women exiting prison. “This is a first in the nation,” Deanne Benos, a former Illinois corrections official who is leading the effort, told the group. “One hundred women, all women, coming together to build and plan and cut the women’s prison population by 50 percent or more.” Studies in the state’s prison system show that 98 percent of incarcerated women have experienced physical abuse at some point in their lives; about 75 percent sexual abuse; and 85 percent intimate partner and stalking abuse.