Record numbers of ex-cons return to Illinois streets

By Rex W. Huppke
Tribune staff reporter
June 19, 2005

Having served their time, they come back to Chicago in staggering numbers: hundreds who've murdered and robbed; thousands of one-time thieves and burglars; nearly 10,000 who've dealt drugs or used them. About 21,000 inmates will leave the high-fenced borders of Illinois prisons this year and re-enter society within the city limits, enough ex-offenders to fill the United Center, about 10 city bus-loads rolling in each week.

This population returns with little notice or fanfare, most drifting almost invisibly back to the neighborhoods where they found trouble in the first place. From January 2004 to the end of May this year, 27,944 people were released to Chicago. Already, 6,405--nearly 23 percent--are back in prison.

There's a reason for that. Most of these inmates are leaving with a bus pass and a few bucks, taking limited skills and a criminal record and jumping the chasm between a cell and law-abiding society.

Over the last three decades, America has largely given up on rehabilitating its prisoners, all the while watching prison populations across the country swell to unheard-of levels. In 1972, about 200,000 people occupied the country's state and federal prisons. That number is now about 1.4 million.