I give Gov. J.B. Pritzker high marks for leadership, especially in fighting COVID-19. He should pay that same attention to the crisis in the Illinois Department of Corrections. To be effective and meet constitutional standards, DOC’s culture must be transformed from punitiveness to rehabilitation, even though there will be opposition from many sides.
Over 28 years, I have visited most prisons in Illinois and have interacted with hundreds if not thousands of imprisoned and formerly imprisoned citizens. Regardless of who is in charge, little changes. Thanks to the heroic efforts of a handful of attorneys, legislators, journalists, dedicated volunteers and correctional staff, minor improvements are made. Sometimes these changes last, many times not. But nothing changes the system.
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In the case of violent crimes, victims and victims’ families suffer horrible pain. Years ago, I believed our system generally got things right, but no longer. Most victims of crime do not even seek relief from the justice system because they know it will not provide what they need.
According to the Illinois Constitution, the purpose of sentencing is to return people to “useful citizenship.” The DOC is an abysmal failure, wasting $3 billion annually. Over one half of released people return to prison.
DOC functions as a killing field. COVID-19 makes this even clearer. Pritzker should support legislative efforts to reinstate parole, to give elderly people in prison opportunities for immediate sentencing review and to end money bail. He also should use his power to leave a legacy of decarceration.
Bill Ryan, Westchester
Shredding the evidence
I would bet good money that the White House paper shredders will be running 24/7 from now until noon on the 20th.
Curt Fredrikson, Mokena
When historians write, in the not-too-distant future, of the travesty that the Trump administration was to American democracy, the harshest condemnation will not be of Donald Trump himself. It will be of the spineless sycophants, stooges, toadies and political lapdogs who enabled him and encouraged him with their deafening silence.
Walter R. Kowalczyk, Jefferson Park