Rauner signs package of criminal justice legislation

- Gov. Bruce Rauner signed more than a dozen criminal justice bills on Monday aimed at taking steps toward reducing prison populations and helping those who've been incarcerated rebound.

"People deserve redemption," Rauner said during a public bill signing at a Chicago facility for adult inmates who are making the transition back into society. "People deserve an opportunity for a second chance."

Three bills focus on the rights of juveniles: They require an attorney be present when police question those younger than 15 and set probation guidelines for convicted juveniles geared toward reducing the time for lesser crimes. Also, juveniles will be able to immediately petition for expungement of criminal records in certain cases.

The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission released a study earlier this year detailing the state's strict rules and high costs to eliminate juvenile criminal records, which can prevent them from getting employment, education and housing. Commission Chairman George Timberlake, a retired judge, called the juvenile-related laws a step in the right direction, but said more could be done to make expungement easier and help young people understand their rights.

"The lack of attorneys of juvenile cases in interrogations is something we can't stop working on," he said.

Other criminal justice measures signed by the governor focus on adults and include plans aimed at reducing inmates' telephone costs, requiring more scrutiny of jail sentences for offenders with no prior convictions and allowing mental illness of criminal defendants to be considered in favor of withholding or minimizing a prison sentence. Another law removes the ban on park districts from hiring former drug offenders.

The new laws were celebrated as bipartisan achievements with lawmakers of both parties present at the bill-signing event, a break from ongoing budget disputes and escalating election-year rhetoric.

But Rauner faced some criticism Monday for using his amendatory veto power last week to rewrite a bill that would've stopped the Department of Corrections from suing inmates to recoup the cost of imprisonment. Rauner's proposed changes Friday included an added financial threshold. The Republican said there are violent offenders with "significant assets" who should compensate victims and the state.

Supporters of that bill say the practice of suing inmates is unfair, overly punitive and not cost-effective. State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the rewrite effectively killed the measure because there weren't votes for an override.

During Monday's event, Cassidy suggested that with campaign ads ramping up, the atmosphere impeded a "legislator or a governor" from making important legislative decisions.

"It's time for detente on these issues," she said. "The system is broken. We have to work together to fix it."

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Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen .

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