Long Term Prisoners
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This page is devoted to protect victims voices and provide information about the push to reduce prison sentences by advocates for Long Term Prisoners.

Prisoners with life and long term sentences of 25 years or more are, with some exceptions,  generally  considered by many to be the "worst of the worst" in Illinois' Prisons. Illinois Citizens for Earned Release and the John Howard Association are working to bring early release to these prisoners. They have filed several pieces of legislation annually since 2006 to try to change Illinois' sentencing structure. Victims of some of the worst violent crime in Illinois will want to know about these legislative efforts that would affect their cases.
   
We do not oppose public policy discussions to reform the criminal justice system - we know many reforms are needed - among them, victims rights! We do however remind all public officials and advocates for criminal justice reform that victims have a constitutional right to be notified and heard in a timely manner in all matters pertaining to  their case. This includes legislation that would retroactively change the sentence of their offender. That means victims must be notified about any filed and proposed legislation that would retroactively affect the sentence of an offender.

See the archives page for history and all materials regarding  the now apparently defunct Illinois Long Term Prisoner Study and HJR 80.

See our LEGISLATORS page for more information on specific legislators, their votes, and who are the good, not so good, and bad  among them on victim issues.

Contents

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Media links to August 11 hearings in Peoria, Illinois on the early prisoner release controversy

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Download the report from August 2009 from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) regarding the impact of the 1993 Truth in Sentencing (TIS) laws in Illinois, and the impact on incarceration rates of murderers. Findings are generally that the projected time to serve for those convicted of murder under truth-in-sentencing is double what it was before TIS. As a result, 30% of murderers sentenced under TIS are projected to die in prison (i.e., beyond their 75th birthday) compared to 15% pre-TIS.

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Dangerous HB 45 is RESOUNDINGLY DEFEATED!! - Sponsor Rep Art Turner meets with us about it and read our response to the Eric Zorn Blog on HB 45
 

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Leading national Victim Advocate Susan Murphy Milano blogs on HB 45
 

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Illinois Legislators support our campaign against HB 45 on their Facebook Pages
 

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HB 45 is now the new HB 4154 for the 2009-2010 Legislative Session - "Elderly" Prisoner early release, even for lifers!
 

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2008 has been the 30 year anniversary of Determinate Sentencing in Illinois - good for victims!  Long may it reign . . .
 

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State Rep Chuck Jefferson responds to victim constituents and removes his name as a co-sponsor of HB 4154
 

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A Discussion on HB 4154: A Prisoner explains why he wants HB 4154
 

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Local blog coverage of HB 4154 with our response
 

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Report on treatment of victims at August 20 Hearing on HB 4154 including our response to offender advocates campaign to dismiss "victim emotionalism"
 

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Victim Testimony regarding HB 4154
 

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Our Report from the August 6, 2008 Event for Prisoner Advocacy called "Throw Away The Key"
 

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POMC opposes HB 4154
 

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A new piece of legislation - HB 4154 - has been proposed. Proposed in October 2007, they call it the "Elderly Prisoner Sentence Adjustment Act" - see information below and our strong message to the bill's sponsors and advocates about their  APRIL 30 PUBLIC HEARINGS!!

 

EARLY RELEASE CONTROVERSY

After the early 2010 controversy surrounding the MGT Push early prison releases that resulted in some violent offenders being released and re-offending, the Illinois Legislature held hearings to investigate further.

Illinois Joint Investigatory Committee on Early Release will hold public hearings and victims are invited to testify and attend.
Hearing #1: Peoria on August 11, 2010
Illinois Central College North, Peoria
5407 N University - Arbor Hall 2nd Floor Auditorium, 6-8 p.m.
Hearing #2: Chicago on August 25, 2010  
James R Thompson Center State of Illinois Building in Chicago
16th Floor Hearing Room, Noon-2 p.m.
Contact House Minority Leader Tom Cross for information

Host of the hearings - House Minority Leader Tom Cross: caucus website (www.ilhousegop.org) where you will find the power point presentation, an online petition, and video clips. 

 MEDIA:

http://www.pjstar.com/news/x482009644/Panel-looks-at-early-prison-release

http://www.centralillinoisnewscenter.com/news/local/Illinois-Republicans-Host-Early-Release-Hearing-100495304.html

http://www.centralillinoisnewscenter.com/news/local/Illinois-Republicans-Host-Early-Release-Hearing-100495304.html?vid=a

http://www.1470wmbd.com/Legislators-Listen-To-Testimony-About-Early-Prison/7892286

http://thecapitolfaxblog.com/2010/08/12/the-issue-that-wont-ever-go-away/

 

 

 

HB 45 DEFEATED!!!! in Floor Vote in Illinois House April 3, 2009
THANK YOU to the heroic legislators that stood on the right side protecting
murder victims family members, law enforcement, and public safety!

Despite actual verbal assurances from Rep Art Turner's office that HB 45, so disturbing to murder victims family members would NOT be called for a vote - the very next day, he called the bill. We believe that this treatment of victims family members is unethical. Elected representatives should be expected to stand by their word.

The more than two to one overwhelming defeat of this bill should send a message to those who supported it that there are better ways to reform the prison and criminal justice issues that need fixing, no doubt, in our state, than to re-open the sentences of convicted murderers 25 years later and release them just because they are 50 years old ("elderly") and have been well-behaved in prison (who couldn't be?!).

This website is filled with sound observations about better ways to reform prisons and sentencing, including addressing the overwhelmingly larger issue of non-violent offenders. We will be meeting with Rep Art Turner and proposing some sound alternatives.

(ED NOTE: This meeting took place on 4-8-09 and we presented Rep Turner with a lengthy list of prison reform, sentencing reform, restorative justice and human rights proposals that would seriously address issues of concern for prisoners and their families. We cannot imagine how much more out of our way we can be going to offer to support prison reform that will help make needed changes without hurting innocent and devastated murder victims family members, as HB 45 would have, had it passed. We now call on the Legislative leaders like Rep Turner who care about prison reform to now do their part and include the victims families in their discussions and efforts going forward. )

But the most enlightening aspect of today's vote was the speeches made by members of the Illinois Legislature's Black Caucus, many of whom championed this bill. Some of the misinformed and yet emotionally real concerns brought to clear light today the NEED FOR EDUCATION around all these horrific issues of violent victimization, offenders, sentencing, and the importance of finding the right processes to make sound public policy for all.  This space will soon publish the entire transcript of the debate - most enlightening.

Some Representatives raised important issues of race and class justice in the criminal justice system- clearly important areas that we all need to talk about together. This bill does not solve those problems, nor even come close to addressing them. Others spoke of rehabilitation and second chances. But the most stunning words of the day came from - who else?! Representative Eddie Washington (D-Waukegan), last year's sponsor of the same bill.

We have written a letter specifically addressed to Rep Washington, and we intend to call public attention to his insulting and insensitive overuse of the word VICTIM - a term he seems to be obsessed with using - and using wrongly in bombastic, self-aggrandizing, and often irrational speeches - this last year or so. It is time that Representative Washington stops saying ridiculous things to people like us, who have had family members murdered in cold blood, such as "it is the guys behind bars that are the REAL victims!"

Representative Washington - it is time you stopped using the word "victim" until you have had a professional education in its proper legal and political use. After your speech at Columbia College that was so tainted with your insulting use of that word that CAN TV had to offer us equal time after the broadcast, then your ridiculous speech on the House Floor on earlier this week about HB 48 in which you launched into another diatribe about being a victim that we could hardly make sense of, and then this speech today about convicted murderers serving life sentences being the real victims.

You need to stop now - you are upsetting innocent people -  and go get yourself a new word to play around with.

CONTACT YOUR HOUSE REP TODAY to say Thank You or to tell them not to support
the retroactive and early release of murderers sentenced to life without parole
or long term sentences - Here is how YOUR Rep Voted.

Here is our post on Eric Zorn's Blog at the Chicago Tribune on HB 45

Great column, as usual, Eric, and thanks for bringing such an important issue to light that the public will care about deeply but generally not know about.

And some very insightful comments from bloggers - 50 is a ridiculous age to set, no doubt. Compassionate release provisions amending for those very elderly, dying, sick, to be with family, I think would be a much more reasonable approach.

I wish we had space here, but we don't, to actually inform the readers the more detailed picture that is behind this HB 45 and those who are pushing for it. It would curl a lot of people's hair, and as usual, there is a lot that is behind it that is not pretty.

Annie B - you are wrong that Eric is just a "friend to the victims" and that he does not do the investigative work - many of us victim families have watched him do this for years! And on both "sides" - your statement reflects a lack of history and investigation on your own part. And he has done many "pro-offender" columns, time and again. This column is neither - it is factual. As he always is - well informed and well-researched.

Blahedo - you have made so many factual errors in your statements I hardly know where to begin. First, the "state" is not putting HB 45 forward! A small handful of legislators and advocates for lifers and long terms prisoners are doing it. The state is not asking for this - quite the contrary - and is not like California or other states with overcrowded prisons facing releases to save money. In fact, if you had been paying attention to the news in recent years, the previous Governor was working to close down prisons because there are many empty beds and all these facilities were not needed in full capacity.

I find most interesting your total lack of hesitation to speak for murder victims family members. I am one - a very active one - and I do not even pretend to think that I can even TRY to do that.

We are not monolithic. And Eric is right about the four main categories of reasons for incarceration after an offense, and correspondingly more serious levels of incarceration for correspondingly more serious levels of offenses.

Think of it like parents raising children and their obligations to use behavioral management systems of reward and punishment to teach children at every stage of their growth, especially through adolesence, and on into adulthood, to behave in a civilized and functional and productive manner. What opinion do we hold of parents who do not punish and manage and remove from free interaction with their surroundings, at times, their children who misbehave! In fact much of that lack of parenting is responsible for many of these offenders being where they are now.

We must not abrogate our responsibilities to each other in that manner.

And there ARE times that people can do things so profoundly inhumane that they lose forever the right to walk among us.

I am personally a victim family member against the death penalty, though I do not speak for others in this regard - victims who want it are not at all wrong for doing so. But I do not want to be what the killer is, so I oppose it.

But life without parole, for those THANKFULLY very very few most horrific among us, that none of us want to believe humanly can exist among us, but sadly do, rarely, is not only permitted, it is necessary. Because while offender "rights" are not eliminated by their criminal actions, victims rights are also fully constitutional and fully present in the equation. Their right not to be tortured by the re-opening of the case has to be balanced against the likelihood that the offender will of course not meet any release standards anyway. Most offenders would not, even the bill's sponsors admit, and so why would you put all of the victims' families through that??!?

And Blahedo, victims rights are NOT a horrible concept - they are in the constitutions and laws of all 50 states and the US Government and are no different than the trial rights and rights of the accused that comprise the foundation of our constitutional protections and legal system. Check out www.victimlaw.org to learn more about the few basic legal rights fundamental to being a crime victim - one of them is advanced NOTIFICATION of matters pertaining to their cases - something that HB 45 completely violates.

Victims have a lot to bring to this discussion. Often they can give information that would be very current, not just historic, about the community that the offender would most likely return to upon release.

Retroactively requiring victims families in cases like mine where the multiple murderer is serving multiple LWOP sentences, but without telling them that the PERMANENT sentence they were promised is now going to be retroactively changed without their knowledge or input, IS a violation of their rights, and it is also torture - pure and simple -of the many innocent and already permanently devastated families left behind that at least had some legal finality to their cases.

HB 45 would re-open their cases 25 years after they were closed. And in cases like mine, transcripts vital to re-opening the sentencing were NOT retained and are no longer available. The judge is gone, the jurors not contactable, the files not complete or even available, the evidence not kept, etc.

Due process is NOT possible.

All the efforts of the entire law enforcement and judicial system retroactively changed by a politically appointed body that has already been shown in Illinois to be at times openly incompetent on key areas, and is NOT legally constituted nor qualified in any way to re-sentence offenders.

Illinois has not had parole in 30 years. HB 45 would end the determinate and truth in sentencing system now in place.

The only legally unchallengeable way it could even be attempted would be for the changes to be PROSPECTIVE (from here on out) only - not retroactive. The system has to prepare to do this.

But I am glad you agree early release would be disastrous. You are right about that.

Overall though, your inanely distasteful and incorrect comments about victims are so bad - so over the top - that I invite you to visit www.IllinoisVictims.org and really get in touch with some of us for face to face real conversation. You need some sensitivity training and you might feel better if you had a chance to talk to a few of us who are really knowledgeable, caring, and who want sound public policy discussions with all the stakeholders at the table, and who want to work to solve society's problems.

We who have suffered the worst from the horrific things that people do to each other KNOW how important it is that we all work together to make things WORK TOGETHER.

To everyone interested in this public policy debate, no matter your perspective, I truly believe that we can all come together on this one point: victims families are, at the very least, KEY STAKEHOLDERS in this public policy debate.

Yet the sponsors and advocates for this legislation have refused, even when asked time and again, to invest just a very small amount of the real resources they have at their disposal, all of which are directed now towards helping to release offenders serving life without parole, or its practical equivalent, for some of the most brutal crimes imaginable, and instead put just a bit of effort to find, inform, and bring supportively to this discussion the few thousand victims families that would be affected by it.

Why won't they?

Until they do, this bill deserves to be, and will be successfully, opposed by a broad cross section of the state.

I understand that the system needs reform and I think those on this blog who have pointed out that to start with those guilty of the highest level of aggravated murders, instead of the many non-violent drug offenders, makes NO sense.

Clemency is already a built in system for those cases of wrong doing the system does not catch and now that we have a Governor that is actually trying to do his job, this system will hopefully start working again for those who are innocent, over-sentenced, or whose cases were seriously flawed.

But to make every single victim’s family go through, into the second and third generations after the case is over, this kind of massive re-traumatization, just troubles me more than I can put into words.

Not just for myself and my children, and my aging mother, but for the many victims' families who do not have near the personal resources I do to deal with what this would mean in their lives. We need to help them as we can and certainly remember and address their needs and concerns with legislation like this being proposed.

I have a good idea: if every single person, private or official, who wants to work for criminal justice reform of one sort or other would agree to devote half - only half - of their resources to helping victims rights, needs, and concerns, I think we might get close to being in a place where we could actually accomplish some meaningful and positive reforms, while still preserving the vital functions that the judicial system and prisons serve in keeping us all safe, holding people accountable for their actions, and working to build a stable and law-abiding society.

A victims’ family member
www.illinoisvictims.org
 

Posted by: victimsfamily | Mar 28, 2009 11:47:03 PM

Feeling the pinch at the grocery store? Make dinner for $10 or less.

 

The Vote Passing HB 45 out of Committee and background:

Along racially charged and partisan lines, HB 45 that would provide early release opportunities for any offender over age 50, even if he is serving life without parole for mass murder, passed out of committee after a trick substitution pulled the one Democrat vote out of committee who supported our effort to defeat it. Now that the full House could vote on it anytime we are urging all those who support victims and do not wish to see them tortured 25 years after they received legal finality in their cases, to contact members of the Illinois House and tell them not to vote for murderers. We will work to call out publicly any elected official who would stand with convicted murderers over their innocent victims left behind, as did Representative Art Turner, Representative Annazette Collins, Representative Eddie Washington, and Representative Connie Howard.

It is not that we do not think prison reform is not necessary or even possible. We do.

But we know that with two-thirds of Illinois' inmates being non-violent offenders, to start with release efforts for mass murderers FIRST before proposing sentencing reforms for the non-violent majority is bizarre and ill-thought out.

And to balance this reform on the backs of the victims, requiring them to re-open what was given to them as legal finality 25 years earlier, when their cases ended in a determinate sentence, shows how little creativity the offender advocates have.

Find a way to work to improve programs, clemency, re-entry, restorative justice, etc, without putting it on the backs of the victims families.

From Rep Susan Mendoza's Facebook Page:

Thanks for reaching out Terry. I'm with you in standing against this legislation. If it makes it to the House Floor, I will be voting NO."  To see your Wall or to write on Susana's Wall, follow the link below:
http://www.facebook.com/n/?profile.php&v=feed&id=1397602769&mid=35b2d4G534db9d1G162a11G1

 

HB 45 is filed for "elderly" prisoner "sentence adjustment" -
Victims NOT included in the process that could radically change their lives

Read below for more information about the old HB 4154 that is now HB 45 for the 2009-2010 Illinois Legislative Session. This bill is almost identical except that the sentence adjustment is proposed to be done by the Prisoner Review Board, instead of a court of law.

The Bill's sponsor is Rep. Art Turner instead of Rep Eddie Washington, but once again, victims families from IllinoisVictims.org who have asked that no bills be put in place until ALL the affected victims families are found, notified, and listened to, were not consulted. We made ourselves available for meetings to discuss possible acceptable alternatives to sentencing reform that would not subject victims families to such trauma. We call on the bill's sponsors to meet with us immediately and, if he is earnest about trying to pass this bill, move all necessary state resources to inform victims families of this effort while it is still possible for victims to have some input in the discussion.

We note just a FEW of the significant concerns with such a bill:

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HB 45 would undo determinate sentencing and truth in sentencing in Illinois

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Life without Parole sentences would be meaningless

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Victims families no longer have any legal finality to the nightmare trauma of life after a murder in their families

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The Illinois Prisoner Review Board is NOT a parole board and not qualified in its construct, personnel, or enabling statutes to evaluate prisoners for risk to public safety, or a change in their sentence, essentially taking on the job of the original court of law that tried, convicted and sentenced them.

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Public safety is at risk

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Prison sentences are proposed to be retroactively changed by the legislature and a politically appointed board in this process - completely abandoning the lengthy judicial and due process given each case.

IllinoisVictims.org completely opposes HB 45 and will work actively for its defeat, which we anticipate will be politically easy to do. We are sad for the hassle of having to work to oppose it. And we call, AGAIN, for the sponsors and supporters of this misguided effort to sit down with ALL the stakeholders in the sentencing process and work for better solutions and better reform proposals. Contact us to assist in working against this bill.

Happy Anniversary! Determinate Sentencing Good For Illinois

As 2008 comes to a close and we usher in 2009, we pause to remember that this year has been the 30 year anniversary of the most important criminal justice reform ever for victims in Illinois - the move in 1978 from indeterminate sentencing to determinate sentencing. This massive reform, widely supported by both the offender and victim community alike, and widely supported by the entire law enforcement and most of the legal community, took much of the politics and randomness out of prisoners' sentences by eliminating parole. Parole was a wildly discriminatory system, never applied consistently, and very subject to human error and politics. Now under determinate sentencing all prisoners except murderers are eligible to earn up to half off their sentences but ONLY measured objectively by their own good behavior - not some politically appointed board. Every day they are good, they earn a day off their sentence. (Some serious non murder cases like aggravated rape can only earn 15% off and murders as of 1993 can not earn any time off.)

This system, still almost universally supported in the state, has kept hundreds of thousands of crime victims in Illinois from having to endure constant re-engagement with the offenders in their cases. In addition, it has given us legal finality to our cases. We believe this anniversary is important to remember, given the several legislative threats to determinate sentencing now being introduced in Springfield, such as HB 4154, HB 4384, etc. We urge Rep. Eddie Washington, and other sponsors of these troubling bills to find other ways that are not so incredibly hard on victims AND taxpayers (indeterminate sentencing is an incredibly costly bureaucracy) and to work reforms in other ways that do not require victims to pay the highest price of all.

Thanks, Rep Jefferson!

Good Afternoon Representative Jefferson,

Just a quick note to Thank you for removing yourself as co-sponsorship of HB4154 on August 21, 2008.  I appreciate your awareness of this bill’s importance to Illinois victims and grateful for the support and time you have given us.  Your compassion means a lot to us in your own community.  THANK YOU!

Respectfully,

Terry Mayborne Rudeen

Discussion on HB 4154

Since we don't have a blog, and we always want to keep this website in the spirit of public discourse and dialogue about all issues we are concerned about - we present the following to model respecting all voices in a discussion. This letter was published by the NAARPR from a prisoner explaining his support for HB 4154 that would give all long term prisoners a chance for early release. CONTACT US if you wish to post comment on this.

To Mr Ted Pearson of the NAARPR                                                                                                                11-8-08

I want to thank you and the staff at N.A.A.R.P.R. for all the work you all perform on behalf of inmates. I especially want to thank you for your efforts towards encouraging the State of Illinois to pass House Bill 4154. As of yet, I don’t meet the requirements to be affected by such a Bill; however I feel that due to the current state of our criminal justice system and it’s constant enactment of draconian laws, one day I will meet the requirements to participate in HB.4154.

Thus far I’ve been incarcerated for 12 years, and I have to complete 50% of a 60 year sentence before I am released. I have 18 years of incarceration remaining. I’ve been incarcerated since the age of 22 and the way things currently stand I will not released until I am 52 years old. At the time of my release, I would’ve been incarcerated for 30 straight years, which is more time than I have lived in the free-world.

Although my sentence is harsh (especially for a first time felon), it is not the focus of my complaint, my complaint rest with the process of rehabilitation and the non-existence of programs to gage whether or not a person has been rehabilitated before the completion of their sentence. Take for instance, myself: for the first 5 years of my incarceration, rehabilitation was the furthest thing from my mind - I just wanted to survive. But during the 6th year of my incarceration I was fortunate enough (believe it or not prison does not foster self improvement) to come to the self realization that I can excel in life and eclipse the expectations that many people had for me.

So, from that day forth I began to rehabilitate myself. The many layers of false personas I had acquired during my involvement in the street life, I now remove them layer by layer until I reach the core of who I really am. During the removal of each layer, I came face to face with the person I was at the time – an encounter which enabled me to dissect the old me in order to better understand why I chose to live the way I did. Due to that dissection, I now understand the thought process that caused me to participate in the criminal element of society, with this knowledge of self, I purged my mind of the foreign element that took up residence -  criminal mentality – and restructured my though process to be productive in and conducive with the norms of society.  And it didn’t take me 30 years to do it; it took 3, which were my 6th 7th and 8th year of incarceration. For the past 4 years: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th I’ve been taking up space that could be utilized for those still in need of rehabilitation.

As the maxim goes, “thought precedes substance” therefore, the substance of my actions is an indication to the fact that I’ve been rehabilitated. During my entire incarceration, I’ve never been involved in any violent offences such as staff assaults, gang activities, or weapon violations; in fact, I’ve never had a fight. I’m currently working towards earning my Associates degree in general education and I participate in all (as limited as they are) self-improvement programs that this institution offers.

To say that what motivates me is not to prove that I am ready to be returned to useful citizenship would be a lie. After all, since my action lead to my incarceration, they should play a part in my being released. Unfortunately, no-one is paying attention and there doesn’t exist an instrument to gage if I have been rehabilitated a decade and a half before the completion of my sentence – and I have! Is not the man who has been rehabilitated but still remains captive in an institution of correction the equivalent of an innocent man?  Maybe not; but he suffers just the same. A rehabilitated man is of no use to anyone if he remains incarcerated. It is a miscarriage of justice to deny someone an opportunity to prove that they have been rehabilitated before the completion of their sentence.

You have put forth a valiant effort to get the state to pass H.B.4154; there-fore to ask you for anymore assistance will cause me to feel as though I was wearing out my welcome. However, any discomfort I may feel due to my request will be transient, yet the effects of my plea can be long lasting. So I plead with you to develop a programme that will be able to determine if someone who is sentenced to 30 years or more is rehabilitated before the completion of their sentence; and if so, they can be considered for early release.

 Due to the snail’s pace at which Illinois politics more, such a bill, if passed, will probably not affect me, but will affect the horde of inmates who will come behind me – many of which will not take 30 year to rehabilitate themselves. In the meantime will you please keep me up to speed on HB 4154, and if there is anything I can do to assist in raising the prospects of passing H.B.4154 please let me know.  Thank you for your time, PRISONER UNAMED

Citizens for "Earned Release" begin campaign about "Victim Emotionalism"

At the August 20, 2008 hearings before the Illinois House Prison Reform Committee regarding HB 4154, a bill was discussed, already deemed unconstitutional by experts, that would end determinate sentencing in Illinois and provide early release opportunities for any prisoner over the age of 50 serving at least 25 years, no matter what their sentence, including Life Without Parole.  Above read our report of what victims experienced who came to testify in favor of having the murderers of their families loved ones serve the full sentences they were given.

The new strategy that emerged out of the offender advocates designed to attack the credibility of victims there that day, particularly in the testimony of Bill Ryan, lead advocate for HB 4154, deserves comment from victims rights advocates. Sadly this new tactic has taken us just one step farther away from the true dialogue, respectful of restorative justice principles, that we need to have in our state if we are ever to have meaningful criminal justice system reform and healing for hurting victims families and families of the incarcerated who, too, are grieving and in pain.

Illinois Citizens for Earned Release submitted an article written in November 2007's Illinois Issues magazine by Professor Christopher Mooney, himself a victim family member who once worked in Corrections, now a political science professor. When referring to this article in his oral testimony and when other offender advocates also testified, they used this article in support of the argument that victims were too emotional and therefore should not be the ones who determine what sentencing policy should be. Victims being too "emotional" and therefore not appropriately credible influences in these discussions was a theme repeated often in testimony by advocates for HB 4154.

We found it hard to believe that this was in fact what Prof. Mooney's article really was about. So we called him ourselves.

Guess what? This article of his did not really say that at all. The article was about was the need to end capital punishment (something many victims families themselves support) and the way that politicians use the emotionally impactful stories of victims families to prevent needed rational discussions about what is best public policy. A point we wholeheartedly concur with. It was not an academic paper of any kind and had no research. It was a personal story of his own emotions dealing with his father's murder while still a child. He argues that objective fact based cost-benefit analyses should be the basis on which we make decisions about something like the death penalty, not on the way that politicians use emotional victims stories to try to prevent reforming the death penalty. The article was about politicians voting based on fear and emotion rather than voting based on what is sound public policy. But the article was only and completely about the death penalty. Not about letting many prisoners seek release early for long term or life sentences. And it does not say that victims are too emotional or trying to influence sentencing.

Each time that the advocates for HB 4154 try to find a way to step around the rights of victims to be at the table in these discussions about public policy on sentencing, and the right to be involved in their own cases, they step further and further away from actually being able to achieve what they are working towards - a chance to bring all stakeholders together to do the long hard work of restorative justice and reforms where genuinely needed. This time, their efforts to sideskirt the "victim problem" sunk to new lows with the attempts to stereotype victims as emotional.

What a horrific insult. And what a monumental misunderstanding. And how pathetic.

By the way, the victims in the room on August 20 were the calm and peaceful ones, patiently sitting through what had to be agonizing, while staying gracious. In contrast, the families and advocates of the offenders booed, hissed, moaned and outright shouted and cursed at law enforcement and victims families.

Its heartbreaking really to see one strategic mistake after another that those working to undo determinate sentencing in Illinois keep making. Demonizing victims, their latest tact, isn't going to work either.

Suggest they give it up.

PS - NO victim that we have ever heard thinks, or has ever argued, that victims should determine offender guilt or innocence or appropriate sentence. To even suggest that this is what victims rights means is beyond silly.

PPS - The only emotionalism in the room at the hearings that day was not from the victims families. See report above.

THROW AWAY THE KEY - Aug 6, 20008

The short summary of the evening is a very mixed one. The room at Columbia College was filled with pain and frustration, and also many good people wanting to make the world and the criminal justice system work better - a process we at IllinoisVictims.org fully support.

In fact we went there to have the dialogue that we know is so desperately needed in our world - the dialogue between victims and offenders that has to happen for better public policy.

Just a few highlights:

bulletVictims who asked to be included in the panel were refused. Only prisoner advocates were allowed to speak and they did not mention crime victims at all except in adversarial ways, or in ways that echoed the theme "we are all victims"
bulletAdvocates for HB 4154 that would create a retroactive change in long term prison sentences that would profoundly affect victims lives and re-arrange their entire post-trial journeys after the murder of a loved one, still are working to move forward their legislation without victims of these crimes being notified of this legislation's existence or an invitation to the hearings on it to speak on August 20.
bulletThe founder of IllinoisVictims.org who attended the evening with several other victims asking only the question "What about the victims?" was singled out by name by several speakers, and most notably rep Eddie Washington, lead sponsor of HB 4154, launched an angry tirade aimed at her by name. He even went into a lengthy description of victims as people with low self esteem who only thought that "someone else's ice cubes were colder than mine" and other such denunciations that were not helpful. We repeat, the word victim is a legal term - one we have no choice but to use and we do not use it in any disempowering way. His angry tone was the low point of the evening and represents to us the strongest case possible for why we desperately need Restorative Justice conversations in Illinois - those aimed at HEALING the harms done by crime and criminals.
bulletThe tone of the evening at a few points was very much about conciliatory processes - which we went there to ask for - and then at times very uncomfortable, with the emcee making jokes about husbands and wives killing each other, and pontificating that men who did not keep a gun in their homes for self-defense were not really men (when we all know that a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to hurt a member of the household than to be used to protect it) and we wondered why anger, hate, sick humor, and personal attacks were allowed from the podium of an event that pretended to be what this event was to be about - a forum on the impact of long term prison sentences.
bulletOur answer? We came to YOUR event to dialogue - we came to YOU. You do not come to our memorials. You do not come to our victim support events. You do not advocate for our needs in the criminal justice system. You do not tell us about your legislation that would so profoundly affect us. You do not include us in your discussions. You have made us leave your meetings when we came to ask to be included in a true Restorative Justice process. And yet most of the offenders and ex-offenders who spoke at your event did not take responsibility for their crimes at all. Some spoke the words HATE and ANGER towards those who incarcerate them and to those who ask that victims be included in conversations about what to do with the many problems in the criminal justice system.
bulletOur final take? The situation is worse than we feared, There is not a real understanding as to what is needed to bring about victim and offender healing in the wake of violent crime. There was NO understanding as to what Restorative Justice is all about. Those who advocate for prisoners should rise to the highest ideals espoused by, thankfully, a few of the evening's speakers, in working for a compassionate, respectful and fully inclusive dialogue.

WE ARE LONG PAST READY TO START? We await the prisoner advocates . . .

Local Blog Coverage of HB 4154 Story with our response

House Bill Would Make Murderers Serving Life Eligible for Parole
by Dimitrios Kalantzis.


August 25, 2008 -
Convicted murderers serving a life sentence would have a chance at parole under the terms of a bill now under consideration by a State House committee. H.B.4154 would overturn a 1978 court ruling in Illinois that eliminated parole hearings for prisoners serving life. The bill would also give prisoners over 50 who have completed at least 25 years of their sentence an elderly sentence adjustment. Inmates on death row would not be eligible.


The House Committee on Prison Reform reviewed the bill for the first time last week just blocks away from an exhibit featuring the artwork of maximum-security prisoners, many who could benefit from the bill. Light from Inside, an exhibit of over 150 art pieces from 51 Illinois inmates, opened two weeks ago at the Chicago Cultural Center and runs through Sept. 28.

The John Howard Association of Illinois , a prisoner advocacy group, organized the exhibit and strongly supports the elderly sentencing reform bill. "The value we see is in rehabilitation," said Malcolm C. Young, executive director of John Howard.

"Criminals have problems and one of these problems is the inability to communicate," Young said.

Eleen R. Arnswald, a 44 year old inmate of Dwight Correctional Facility and artist featured in Light from Inside, wrote in the description of her paintings: "I am beginning to understand the therapeutic effects of my artwork."

But a local victims advocacy group is skeptical. "What about the victims?" asked Jennifer Bishop, founder of IllinoisVictims.org, a Web resource for victims and families of crime.

Bishop, 50, whose pregnant sister and brother-in-law were shot and killed in 1990 said she supports much of the John Howard prison reform effort, but objects to what she sees as a recent shift from prisoner's rights to sentence reduction.

If the bill would pass, the man convicted of murdering Bishop's family members would be eligible for parole in as little as 15 years. "It's not fair. I would have to attend parole hearings every two years," Bishop said.

Janie Edwards, 62, is in a similar situation. Sixteen years ago her son Jarrell was killed in a brutal attack in her home. The convicted killer was sentenced to life. His artwork appears in the exhibit. H.B.4154 would make Jarrell's killer eligible for parole in the next 20 years.


When asked about this possibility, Edwards became silent before saying: "I would fight it tooth and nail."

Though it may be years before the bill comes to a vote in the General Assembly, the wheels are in motion: "Someone's got to start it," Young said.

POSTED COMMENT RESPONSE
 
Jennifer Bishop said:

Its always frustrating to see ones own words reduced to something not entirely reflective of our complex position, though we understand the constraints of space, and I am grateful for this feedback opportunity.

While I commend the coverage of this important issue largely unnoticed by mainstream media, and continue to support prison and criminal justice reform with all my might, the quotation of mine in this article just does not capture adequately the position of IllinoisVictims.org.

If I said "its not fair" in my hour long interview with the reporter, which I do not remember saying, it was in the context of our concerns for crime victims rights to be notified of a proposal to retroactively undo a determinate life or long term prison sentence of a guilty murderer of their beloved and innocent loved ones that they walked away believing could not be changed because we live in a state that has had truth in sentencing for decades.

The article does not explain that HB 4154 would completely undo that, which is just one of the many reasons why the states finest legal minds have already denounced this legislation as not even close to being able to pass constitutionality tests. It also violates the separation of powers requirements by taking from the Governor the power to reduce sentences given by courts.

Though we all support and even pray for rehabilitation in all offenders, and I support Restorative Justice with my very life each and every day, this bill would have us try to solve the few flaws in the system by requiring victims families to re-engage with the scariest person in their lives without any legal finality for decades after the crime, and that is not the solution.

This bill will never garner serious support - it proposes that 25 years after a trial originally takes place, that a whole new sentencing hearing in court takes place.

No, there are other solutions.

We have earned release and half off good time provisions in law already for all offenders except murderers, and other extremely serious cases can earn up to 15 percent off. These prison sentence reformers should work to extend those good time credits to a broader range of offenders rather than draw victims back into court over and over.

That is . ..IF they can pass it.

Of this we are somewhat doubtful because we recognize that most people think that aggravated and multiple premeditated murderers deserve long term or even life sentences. And that those sentences should be fully served. And that victims deserve some finality.

We strongly support, however, and cannot imagine why we don't have serious legislative efforts from John Howard Association and others, bills that would completely change the ridiculous way we house long term prisoners who have completely rehabilitated.

Why isn't John Howard filing bills that would create a much easier transfer mechanism for lifers and long termers that are aged, reformed, and not a safety risk but willing to help others to lower security facilities that allow them to teach, mentor, work to earn money for their victims, their upkeep costs, and for their families on the outside? Why doesn't John Howard propose legislation that stops the warehousing of long term prisoners and puts them into self-financing programs that help them and the public as well? Why doesn't John Howard propose legislation that would end long prison sentences for the almost two-thirds of our state's prisoners incarcerated for NON-violent offenses? Why are their first efforts for the handful of lifers who have committed some of the worst offenses that any human being could ever imagine? And why are they unwilling to give one ounce of their well-funded staff and office time to notify and reach out to victims families?

We don't have an office with several lawyers working for us. We are just victims families left to fend for ourselves while millions are spent on advocacy to reduce the sentences of those who permanently destroyed lives by their own choice.

We had no such choice. We did not force our lives upon them. They forced theirs into ours. And took life. And now we have to deal with that. But we should not have to engage with these offenders unendingly for the rest of our lives.

Though our state constitution guarantees fair treatment for crime victims, we arent whining about how "unfair" this bill is to us- we just want to be fully informed as to all matters pertaining to our case, which is the very least we are owed considering what the offenders took from us.

And yet the supporters of this bill have refused our request that they invite the victims families of these crimes to the discussion of this bill or that they even inform them of the effort to change the sentences given to the offenders in their cases.

If you were the parent of a murdered child, wouldn't you want to know about a bill that could change your life?

Bottom line, the advocates for this bill are thinking only of the offenders and have made no provision for the victims of these crimes- a dynamic we are trying to change.

The dialog requires all stakeholders to be at the table.

At this point, as far as we know, this bill would affect potentially tens thousand or more victims family members, and yet as far as we know, only about 50 of us know about it, and only because we have worked to find each other.

That is not right.

We are encouraged at least by reports in Springfield that this bill has little support and will not even likely get out of committee.

Jennifer
www.illinoisvictims.org

 

August 20, 2008 Hearings on HB 4154 A Difficult Experience

We are troubled about having to post a report on the hearings that many IllinoisVictims.org members and supporters participated in before the Illinois House Prison Reform Committee. It was so awful in places that one would have had to have been in the room to see it to believe it. Much of this was theater in support of a certain constituency that will have little to no effect in actually determining decision making in Springfield. And one could argue that Rep. Washington was doing the offender families a favor by helping them to feel heard in some official capacity. We are simply hoping that this did not instill any kind of heartbreakingly false hope in any of them that legislation that would undo determinate sentencing in this unconstitutional fashion will ever pass.

The leader of this effort, Bill Ryan of Illinois Citizens for Earned Release, gave testimony that we now feel a particular need to respond to - see at the end of this posting.

And while at times it did actually resemble a proper public hearing by a state legislative committee on a pending piece of legislation with professional and expert and personal testimony, at other times it descended into a three ring circus.

The crowded room was filled with a few dozen victims families, and more family and friends of the incarcerated. They were often frustrated and upset, stressed no doubt because of their loved ones' incarceration, and began to noisily react to any testimony in opposition to the bill offered by prosecutors and victims. The room got more and more upset and they were allowed to boo, hiss, and even scream and loudly comment hostilely on testimony given by prosecutors, elected officials, state employees that work for the Department of Corrections, and worst of all, murder victims family members.

We have never seen anything like this in all our years of attending legislative hearings. The room was, at times, completely out of control.

These were only subject matter hearings, there won't be a vote taken on HB 4154 anytime soon, if ever. In fact, we are very sure of this - the bill is going nowhere. The many problems with the bill became even more clear today. Top legal experts examining the bill proved that it would never pass constitutionality tests because it violates the separation of powers. Commuting a sentence is a power that belongs only to Governors and Presidents. And no one could account for what this bill would cost in re-sentencing hearings for inmates who have reached age 50. The attempt this bill makes to dismantle determinate sentencing in Illinois and to balance the need for criminal justice reform on the backs of victims families who would never have any legal finality to their cases under this bill was denounced by many stakeholders. Finally, we know that there is simply little broad public support for reducing the sentences being served by the most serious criminals, even though we support the criminal justice reforms that are needed as much as do the offender advocates in the room. And spoke for it, again, as we often have.

Tragedy was pervasive in the very tense three hour hearing. Those who have advocated to bring some "relief" to the long prison sentences being served by many inmates in the state were not helped today by the most adversarial and hostile climate we have ever witnessed in a public hearing. While the intense feelings on the part of the offenders families is completely understandable, and while several who spoke tried very hard to bring the climate of the room to a place of compassion for all concerned, the fact is that room was NOT a safe place for victims whose lives are already so incredibly damaged to come and testify.

Public hearings like this MUST be made a safe place for all points of view to be expressed on even the most difficult of issues. This was not such a place. If for example this were a court room with a presiding judge, the first time audible moans were made at a speaker, the judge would have ordered silence and order in his court, and that anyone who violated the safe climate for testimony would be removed. This did not happen here, however, at legislative hearings run by the Prison Reform Committee Chair who is the bill's lead sponsor, and who took long speech making opportunities with many witnesses to express his philosophy on crime and punishment, using up much of the three hour time, and cutting out at the end two victims family members who had taken off work and waited all morning to try to speak for their three minutes. There were also, I am sure, offender families who did not get to testify either. The side for the bill was allowed to start and end the testimony and had more witnesses allowed to speak as well, though alternating pro and con attempted to bring balance.

One screaming woman actually rose to her feet shouting and cursing at State Representative Sacia who had quite correctly contradicted a false statement about why people were put in prison. (The accusation was that people were only put in prison to benefit small town prison economies, not by implication for the crimes they commit.) She went on for a full minute or more before she was asked to be quiet, and not even made to leave.

One clergy woman who spoke had to ask everyone in the room to just take a deep breath and calm down. One of us about to testify was preparing to do the same thing, and we were grateful she did it first. Coming from "the offenders side" her request seemed to carry more credibility with the angry audience.

The worst part of the day for us was the characterization of victims and their place in this public policy debate by speaker after speaker. We, who were the calmest in the room, were denounced over and over for our non-existent "emotionalism"; victims having a voice in the criminal justice policy discussion was compared to "mob rule", and we were told by the Chair that our grieving in the "comfort of our homes" did not compare to the "victimization" of those behind bars.

Because we have asserted our rights to be notified of matters pertaining to our cases and the sentences being served by those who killed our family members, we were instead criticized for wanting to be the SOLE decision makers in sentencing, which of course none of us have ever even thought about being. We attempted to point out some of the outrageous mischaracterizations about what a victim is - a legal term that we have no choice but to use under law - someone who had a crime committed against them.

If the tone and climate for this public policy debate does not change, radically, and soon, we at IllinoisVictims.org fear that many will suffer unnecessarily, and of course no progress will likely ever be made on criminal justice reform.

We urge meetings of leadership to make fundamental re-directions in their thinking and planning to avoid such travesties before any more proceedings happen that might pit victims families against angry offender families ever again.  This day was a further compounding of tragedy that did not advance the best interests of the residents of Illinois in anyway. In fact, the public interest was damaged this day.

Notable among some of the offender families were those who spoke responsibly about the wrong doing of their loved ones and their willingness to accept that responsibility and their desire to reach out to victims families in support and sympathy. And some clergy who spoke were eloquent about the need to bring peace and love and compassion to such troubled lives.

Finally, we want to thank the Cook County States Attorney Mr Devine, and the DuPage County States Attorney Joe Birkett for personally taking time to come to testify and offer high level advocacy for the interests of the thousands of victims families that would have wanted to be at this hearing but were NOT INVITED. At least they had excellent representatives that were there out of concern for their well-being.

And we offer the highest praise for the support of victims, professional conduct,  and intelligent questions, viewpoints, and analysis offered by Rep. Dennis Reboletti, Rep. Jim Sacia, and even Rep. Art Turner who is a co-sponsor of the bill.

We hope that this kind of climate at a public hearing is never allowed again by any legislative committee in Illinois, particularly where murder victims families are going through so much to come and testify.

Victim Testimony Regarding HB 4154

Comments to the Prison Reform Committee on August 20, 2008 regarding HB 4154 the Elderly Prisoner Sentence Adjustment Act

Diane Oetting, Granddaughter of Lillian Oetting
Murdered by Chester Otto Weger, (IDOC #C-0114) on March 14, 1960
_______________________________________________________

Good Morning. I’m Diane Oetting from Montgomery, Alabama. I want to thank the members of this committee for giving me the opportunity to come and comment on HB 4154.

I am here to speak on behalf of my family and my grandmother, Lillian Oetting; a woman whom I’ve never had the opportunity to meet, because on March 14, 1960, she and two of her dear friends were murdered by Chester Otto Weger at Starved Rock State Park, in Ottawa, Illinois.

The details of his crime are horrendous; the courtroom was cleared before the Judged allowed the coroner to describe the autopsy findings and a juror fainted when she was shown the crime scene photographs. This same juror was one of 12 that found Weger guilty of the crime and declared his punishment to be “imprisonment in the penitentiary for the term of his natural life.”

While no prison term would bring my grandmother back, this sentence gave my family comfort in knowing he would not be free to inflict this pain on another innocent victim. And we lived in the comfort of this knowledge until 1977…..

This was the year that a group of your predecessors rewrote the dictionary and Illinois State Law to define the term “life” in prison as only 17 years, by their passage of the Class “X” crime bill. This law mandated that Weger and his fellow “C#” prisoners could accept either a definite parole date, or the opportunity to have annual parole hearings. He chose the latter, and my family and those of the other victims have had to relive the horrors of his crime on an annual basis since his first hearing in 1978.

At this very moment, my mother and father, who have traveled from our home to Alabama to Chester, Illinois, are speaking to members of the Prisoner Review Board and asking them to once again honor the decision made in 1960 by a jury of his peers and allow him to serve the rest of his life in prison. This Board has wisely voted against his petition every time, but the fear of his release is never far from our minds.

While HB 4154 will not affect Weger’s term, it has the potential of drastically affecting the lives of many people, both in and out of the Illinois Department of corrections and that’s why I’ve made the trip to be here this morning.

I have three items I’d like to discuss: your definition of the terms “elderly” and “crime victims” and my definition of the “Momma Rule.”

First, the State of Illinois’ Older Adult Services Act defines an “elderly adult” as a person that is the age of 60 or older; but your proposed legislation defines the same term as one who has only reached the age of 50. While I understand this number was chosen because of the physical affects of imprisonment on inmates, let us not forget that this age progression has occurred to them because they chose to break the law and were imprisoned (and perhaps, because of poor nutrition and health care they’ve received, both of which are funded by the budget that you pass each year.) While it may seem to many that I’m concentrating on a small detail of the Bill; this is a crucial element to my family and me, because the age you’ve determined as the beginning point of a possible second chance for elderly prisoners is same age as my very “un-elderly” grandmother on the day she was murdered.

Secondly, your state defines a “crime victim” as a person, or their representative, against whom a violent crime has been committed. While this describes my grandmother and our family, the Federal Government’s definition is much broader. It states that a "crime victim" is a person that is directly as well as proximately harmed as a result of the commission of an offense. This definition is inclusive of an important group that your state has chosen to leave out – the families of those that are incarcerated. Why should my family care about them? Because they’re victims too, but excluded from the programs that are offered to my family, and yet their needs are just as great. You have the power to help them, and in turn the possibility of stopping the cycle of crime that is evident in so many prisoner’s families, including that of Chester Weger – whose son is also serving time in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Finally, HB 4154 lists as one of the conditions of parole “the successful participation by the committed person in programs designed to restore the committed person as a useful and productive person in the community upon release and if such programs are not available, that the committed person has attempted to participate in such programs.” Now, I ask you ….. if your own legislation includes the requirement of these programs, and you don’t mandate and fund these programs to ensure they are available to every prisoner in the state, aren’t you setting these men and women up to fail and guaranteeing their families, and the citizens of this Illinois, even more heartache?

Back home, we use a standard of measurement when we’re making decisions about what’s the right and moral thing to do and I’ll close by sharing this technique with all you. When it comers time for you to make a decision about what prison programs you should include or cut from the budget, or how to vote on a piece of legislation like HB 4154, just take a second and ask yourself, “Would my Momma be proud of the decision I’ve made?”

That’s the Momma Rule… and it works every time.

Thank you