The primary vocation of our Department of Corrections is not just to warehouse those who have been convicted of crimes, but rather to transform and rehabilitate those who have shown errant behavioral patterns and return them to society so they may be able to make positive contributions.
In recent years the attitude of our society has shifted more towards warehousing and away from hopes and goals of transformation and rehabilitation of those incarcerated. I believe that we all have an obligation to open our hearts and minds towards the prospects of transformation and rehabilitation.
Illinois State Representative Arthur Turner (D-Chicago) has offered House Bill 45 which offers society the opportunity to recognize that the transformation and rehabilitation of those imprisoned for their crimes is indeed possible and to welcome those who are prepared to except the responsibilities for productive citizenship to return to society.
HB 45 also provides a sensibly approach towards addressing the issue of rehabilitated prisoners who are elderly.
Under the terms of the bill, the Prisoner Review Board would only be allowed to order the release of a person if the Board finds that the person poses no threat to public safety. The bill provides that if the Prisoner Review Board determines that a committed person should receive a sentence adjustment, the Board will set conditions for the committed person's release. Finally, the bill creates a voluntary Impact of Crime on Victims Class (ICVC), which incorporates principles of restorative justice. The ICVC would be a pilot initially, patterned on a similar program within the Missouri Department of Corrections.
There are economic, social, and moral reasons to support this legislation. To the first, if only 100 prisoners were released under the proposal, it is estimated the state would save $7 million. Obviously, financial gains cannot be the primary force for a change in sentencing. The bill also recognizes that 25 years is a significant amount of time and that age 50 for a prisoner is considered elderly by researchers. The bill would not be a "get out of jail free" card. The requirements are stringent and will not be met by most petitioners.
I sincerely believe that justice, mercy and fiscal accountability dictate that some of the nearly 1,000 men and women meeting the requirements of this bill should have their sentences adjusted. I am convinced that HB 45 meets the constitutional mandate of returning prisoners to “useful citizenship.”
I thank Representative Turner for authoring this bill.
As we prepare for the beginning of Lent, I encourage all to support HB 45.
+James Alan Wilkowski
Evangelical Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of the Northwest