An Illinois state body that reviews possible release for incarcerated people saw its operations grind to a halt this week because the Illinois State Senate declined to confirm two appointees and a third appointee abruptly resigned.
The Illinois Prisoner Review Board no longer has enough members to operate. Appointments were held up this week by both state Democrats and Republicans, who are using the board as a proxy fight over criminal justice, a top concern ahead of November’s elections.
At issue were a handful of high-profile people who the board has voted to release over the last two years. Those cases include a woman who killed her two daughters and a man who killed an Illinois State Trooper.
But those cases make up a minute proportion of the board’s work as Illinois mostly eliminated parole in 1978. Less than 100 people still in the state’s criminal justice system are eligible for parole.
Instead, the lack of quorum will most impact the other duties held by the board, such as hearing cases for people who have violated the terms of their release. Although quorum isn’t necessary for such decisions, Jennifer Soble of the Illinois Prison Project said the board’s diminished capacity could lead to a higher level of dysfunction. Soble said that focusing on a few high-profile parolees instead of the work of the board as a whole is “doing the whole state a huge disservice.”
“Whenever anyone leaves the prison of the Department of Corrections, it’s the Prisoner Review Board that sets their supervision conditions,” Soble said. “Last year, they did that 12,335 times.”
Earlier this month, Pritzker pulled a nominee for the board, that of a former parolee.
The Illinois State Senate declined to confirm two appointees to the board over the course of the last week. A third appointee resigned before the Senate could vote on his position. That left the board with just six members, two short of a quorum.
Pritzker blamed Republican election-year messaging on crime for the hemorrhaging board at a press event Tuesday.
“[Republicans] take the original crime that took place, often decades and decades ago, and they just talk about the headline of that crime and don’t talk about everything else that’s occurred,” Pritzker said.
But many Democrats in the Senate voted against Pritzker’s nominees as well. Many represent more parts of the state Democrats fear Republicans will target in the November election or areas with high concentrations of law enforcement members.
House Republican leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs referred to the board’s high-profile decisions again in a Wednesday press conference.
Durkin didn’t weigh in on how much of a problem 85 elderly potential parolees could pose to public safety in Illinois. He focused on the contention that’s surrounded recent decisions to parole.
“If we’re going to say that the prison review board is going to grant parole, I’m saying that we’re not going to deny it, I want a higher threshold,” Durkin said. “I want two-thirds of the board. Because right now, these are razor thin margins that are going on.”
Durkin introduced a bill to add law enforcement representation to the board and raise thresholds for votes to parole murderers. That bill is currently stalled.
In the meantime, the board has had to postpone a meeting scheduled for March 31 and cancel its hearings that were scheduled for April 12 to April 15.
Caroline Kubzansky covers the statehouse for WBEZ. Follow her @CKubzansky.