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
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.
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.
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.
HB 45 DEFEATED!!!! in Floor Vote in Illinois House April 3, 2009
Despite actual verbal assurances from
Rep Art Turner's
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.
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
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
Terry Mayborne Rudeen
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
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.
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:
WE ARE LONG PAST READY TO START? We await the prisoner advocates . . .
House Bill Would Make Murderers Serving Life Eligible for Parole
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.
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
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.
Comments to the Prison Reform Committee on August 20,
2008 regarding HB 4154 the Elderly Prisoner Sentence Adjustment Act