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Get Out of Jail for a Price: The First Investigation From Our Illinois Reporting Project

Over the next few months, we’ll publish more stories from across the state — including ones that look at topics involving the environment and worker safety.

This story was first published in ProPublica Illinois’ weekly newsletter. Sign up for that here.

This week, we published the first story from our Illinois reporting project, an initiative to fund investigative reporting around the state that we announced this year.

Freelance writer Rebecca Burns examined how prosecutors in more than two dozen Illinois counties use diversion programs, run by for-profit companies, to offer criminal defendants an alternative to being prosecuted in court: paying fines in exchange for having their charges dismissed.

These programs, experts say, create an uneven playing field where well-to-do defendants can buy their way out of criminal trouble while low-income defendants cannot. In some cases, state’s attorneys probably wouldn’t have followed through with the prosecution. What’s more, the companies take the lion’s share of the fees.

It’s the kind of investigation we were looking for when we issued our call for proposals: a story on an issue of particular concern to Illinoisans who live outside the Chicago metropolitan area.

We have several more projects we plan to publish in the coming months, including stories that look at topics involving the environment and worker safety.

We’re excited to be collaborating with these reporters and hope you’ll read their work. If you have ideas for other stories we should investigate, whether they’re in Chicago, central Illinois or the southern part of the state, please let us know. You can email me at [email protected].

You can also call us or reach us confidentially through Signal at 312-282-0273.

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Portrait of Steve Mills

Steve Mills

Steve Mills is the deputy Midwest editor of ProPublica

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