I held a press conference today to announce a report that reveals that African Americans charged with low-level drug crimes were sent to prison at a rate almost five times greater than whites in 2005, the most recent year for which the comprehensive data set was available.

In 2008, I sponsored Senate Bill 2476 creating The Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission to examine the impact of Illinois drug laws on racial and ethnic groups. Hunter co-chaired the Commission that found in its independent research 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.

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 nonwhite residents.

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, penalties, 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.

For more information about the Commission's findings click here.

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Please click on the link below to view my January newsletter.  And don't forget to sign up to receive my monthly newsletter by filling out the form on my homepage!

Senator Hunter's January Newsletter

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According to the American Red Cross, every two seconds someone in America needs a blood transfusion. That means over 38,000 individuals need to utilize donated blood on any given day, yet only three out of every 100 people give blood. And since blood only has a shelf life of 42 days, even those who donate regularly cannot keep supply levels stable, even if they donate the maximum limit of six times a year, or every 56 days.

And at this time of year, supplies are at their lowest levels due to inclement weather and seasonal illnesses that prohibit donors from contributing. To help bring more awareness to this cause, each January since 1970 has been designated National Blood Donor Month in recognition of those who have donated. The awareness program is also designed to educate new donors on the simplicity of donating blood.

Those eligible to give blood much be 17 years of age or older and weigh at least 110 pounds. The process is easy and only takes an hour of your time. There are several restrictions for those who should not donate blood and the information can be found on the American Red Cross Web site.

A pint of blood can save up to three lives, giving a donor the opportunity to save up to 18 lives a year. Saving a life is a precious gift, so please do your part today by visiting www.redcrossblood.org to find a local Red Cross near you to donate. Even if you cannot donate, you can still help by planning a blood drive in your community. Also, do not forget to thank a donor this month.

As the American Red Cross says, "The need is constant. The gratification instant. Give Blood."

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