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In Illinois, many sentencing laws converge to create a system that consistently results in extremely long prison terms. These include mandatory minimums, firearm enhancements, automatic transfer laws, the felony-murder rule, accountability theory, and more.

The consequences of lengthy sentences

Research shows long sentences lead to little to no reduction in crime. The longer sentences produced as a result of the policies of the 1970s-1990s contribute heavily to overcrowded prisons.

Extreme sentences also make us less safe because of the harmful impacts of incarceration and the removal of people from communities. Research shows longer prison sentences do not deter crime; they fracture communities already suffering from violence and over-incarceration. Long sentences don’t decrease crime but do make communities and families poorer and less stable.

When Illinois laws force judges to impose extreme sentences that don’t reflect the individual circumstances of a case, no group is hurt more or has more to lose than the children and young people who find themselves ensnared in our criminal legal system.

In 1978, Illinois abolished parole.

Now, the state is one of 16 not to provide most people with parole opportunities.

In 1998, Illinois passed a so-called “truth-in-sentencing” law.

This severely restricts opportunities to earn “good time” and early release.

Our Work in Sentencing Reform

Restore Justice supports policies that would eliminate or reduce mandatory minimums, roll back firearm enhancements, and otherwise change the laws that rigidly increase sentence lengths or restrict judges from applying appropriate sentences. When given the choice, our team has found that many judges chose to depart from harsher sentences, making it all the more important to give judges more ability to dispense sentences based on individual consideration.


In 2023, Illinois became the 26th state to abolish the practice of sentencing children under 18 to life without parole.

Learn more about issues related to sentencing


Restore justice advocates for commonsense Illinois sentencing laws that will make communities safer — without tearing families apart.

Learn about bills that will make a difference

articles on sentencing