Effective Diversion Programming in Illinois

Sometimes being in first place isn’t such a good thing: the United States is the world’s leader in incarceration, locking up 25 percent of the international prison population.  Mass incarceration of this scale reflects policy that encourages warehousing inmates instead of rehabilitation.

The state of Illinois, which holds over 48,000 of these prisoners, is doing its part to slash incarceration rates by diverting non-violent offenders from prison into more appropriate support services. This initiative, dubbed ‘Adult Redeploy Illinois’ (ARI) and established by the Crime Reduction Act (Public Act 96-0761), provides alternatives to incarceration to more than half of the prison population within the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) who are imprisoned for lower level (Class 3 and Class 4) offenses. These are individuals who were likely eligible for probation for committing a non-violent or drug related crime, but were instead incarcerated because the state did not have the appropriate re-entry services in place.

Substance abuse and mental health treatment are at the core of these services. Through ARI, jurisdictions receive financial incentives for employing programs that allow diversion of non-violent offenders from state prisons and provide community based services and supervision to eligible offenders. While each ARI site is unique in demographic and criminogenic needs, the diversion programs establish problem-solving forums such as drug and mental health courts, comprehensive probation programs, and dynamic partnerships with community treatment providers.

To receive funding, ARI sites must commit to reducing the number of non-violent offenders entering the IDOC within a targeted population by 25% and analyze outcomes under the purview of the Crime Reduction Act. Since its full implementation in January 2011 through December, 2014, ARI programs have helped 2,025 individuals across 39 counties, amounting to $46.8 million in corrections savings.

The success of the ARI program illustrates the promise of “performance incentive funding” as an effective data-driven and evidence-based approach to providing alternatives to incarceration. Massachusetts and other states could benefit enormously from introducing similar programming.

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