Illinois prisons are crowded - handling about 17,000 more inmates then they were built for. Now a watchdog group says the state is at a turning point - and needs leadership from whoever is sworn in as governor in January.
Illinois spent the 1980s and '90s putting more and more people in prison and for longer and longer sentences. The non-partisan John Howard Association, however, says research shows that's not really effective at lowering crime.
John Maki is director of the group.
"We have the largest prison population in all the world. We spend more money on corrections than any other country. And we're finally waking up to the reality (that) this is really bad policy. But we simply can't just turn it off. It took 40 years to build this system. It can't be undone in one year."
That crowding and tight budgets make it even harder for inmates to access education, drug treatment, and counseling - turning low-risk offenders into high-risk ones.
Maki says the governor, regardless of who wins in November, will be key to changing the system. He says if Illinois doesn't reduce its prison population on its own, it could face California's fate - where federal courts ordered the state to let inmates go.