Ending wrongful convictions will take more than piecemeal reform

The fact that so many people are wrongfully convicted because of police misconduct in Illinois and other states illuminates a failure of larger dimensions.

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In an editorial last week, the board rightfully pointed out that prisoners released from incarceration need support systems if they are to return to productive lives.

Half of Americans have seen a family member incarcerated, and three in four incarcerated Americans rely on an under-funded, under-resourced public defender system that simply cannot meet the demands of real advocacy.

To date, the National Registry of Exonerations reports there have been 3,303 exonerations, representing more than 28,450 years lost. Each exoneration means an innocent person was imprisoned, while the real criminal remained in our communities.

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The fact that so many people are wrongfully convicted because of police misconduct in Illinois and other states illuminates a failure of larger dimensions. While both red and blue states are passing criminal justice reforms to address the size and cost of our system, those state reforms create an uneven topography that, unfortunately, does not meet the ends of justice.

Nor does it address the systemic problems that cost taxpayers $1.82 billion for a system that does not keep us safe. These well-meaning but partial reform measures will not change the institutional failures that have made the United States the largest jailer in the world.

For a number of years, I and an alliance of others in my profession have suggested we need a defender general, an independent justice function at the level of the attorney general and solicitor general. The goal is to address three areas: funding, by incentivizing states to equitably fund public defense, collect data and create quality metrics; advocacy, by representing defense interests in the U.S. Supreme Court, litigating Sixth Amendment (rights of criminal defendants) violations by state and local actors and monitoring consent decrees; and policy, by modeling best practices, informing lawmakers and disseminating public defense data and supporting training, standards and innovations.

A top desire for Americans is not mere safety — it is for true justice. We can do better.

Andrea D. Lyon, criminal defense and death penalty lawyer, author of Fixing Legal Injustice in America: The Case for a Defender General of the US

No more delays on gun safety law

“Liquid mud.” That’s how residents of 19th century Highland Park once described their drinking water after a deadly cholera outbreak led to a failed attempt to pump clean water from the bottom of Lake Michigan. But it’s also an apt descriptor for what we have gotten from state government when it comes to gun violence prevention. Half measures won’t wash.

This year, Highland Park came face-to-face with another scourge: gun violence during the 4th of July parade.

Yet state government and Democrats have doled out a muck of half measures. Illinois still allows the purchase of assault weapons and has a deeply flawed red-flag process, as highlighted by how the Highland Park shooter got his weapons.

Back in July, politicians visited our town and tweeted their horror and thoughts and prayers. They have gone. The plague has receded, for now, leaving scars and pain behind. The fear remains, too, in us as neighbors and as parents, and most of all in our children, who used to play carefree after school in Port Clinton Square.

Highland Park, as it should, will build a memorial to its victims, just as it honored its cholera-stricken ancestor by naming its town center Port Clinton. But a state bill would be the only truly fitting memorial. Highland Park’s own assault weapons ban proved tragically quixotic and underscored the severe shortcomings of a piecemeal approach to gun reform.

Our state representative and state senator are pushing for reform, but we still wait for action. For years, Democrats have enjoyed supermajorities in state government, but they failed to fix this when they returned to Springfield this fall.

No more excuses. No more liquid mud.

Laurent Pernot, Highland Park

Releasing the ‘Merchant of Death’

President Joe Biden just negotiated a prisoner swap with Vladimir Putin, in which he released a Russian terrorist arms dealer, known worldwide as the “Merchant of Death,” Viktor Bout, in exchange for Brittney Griner, a basketball player. The president and Congress are trying to ban assault weapons on the one hand, and on the other hand Biden is catering to his political base. Well played, Joe.

Mike Rice, Jefferson Park

Cubs back to their old selves

The 2016 World Series really was a once in a lifetime anomaly as the Cubs are back to their old self, which here means they signed the statistically worst player in baseball last year - Cody Bellinger - to a one-year contract for $17.5 million. The worst part is if he stinks again, then the Cubs wasted $17.5 million, but if he’s awesome, then he walks and used the Cubs to rehabilitate his career before moving on. So Cubs.

Malcom Montgomery, Flossmoor

Forgetting Pearl Harbor

Dec. 7, the anniversary of what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called “a day that will live in infamy,” came and went without a single remembrance in the Sun-Times. So much for our collective memory, which clearly is suffering cognitively.

We and our allies defeated the Axis powers and rescued democracy. Like with some individual old-timers, apparently a national event that occurred 81 years ago is beyond press recall, including the sacrifices of the thousands who gave their lives in that all-encompassing conflict. Readers are left to imagine that WWII has become as much of a “forgotten” war as the Korean conflict.

One would think that as a nation, as a city, we have better memory.

Ted Z. Manuel, Hyde Park

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