Share the article: ICYMI – Chicago Tribune Editorial: Republicans are right to call out failings of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Illinois Prisoner Review Board

Jayden Perkins’ death shines a tragic spotlight on Prisoner Review Board

The horrifying case of Crosetti Brand has surfaced an issue that’s been percolating in Springfield for four years: the performance of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.

The state body, comprising up to 15 members and by law required to include representatives of both parties, is responsible (among other things) for the critical job of deciding whether and when criminals should be paroled. It was the Prisoner Review Board that ruled last month it couldn’t continue to hold Brand when he clearly committed acts that should have been deemed parole violations and should have returned him to prison. Brand was initially paroled late last year after serving eight years of a 16-year sentence for home invasion and aggravated battery involving an ex-girlfriend.

After the board decided it lacked evidence to continue holding him despite his threats early this year to a different woman he had dated more than a decade before, he was released and the following day attacked her, according to police and prosecutors. Her 11-year-old son, Jayden Perkins, was killed on March 13 trying to defend his 33-year-old pregnant mother, who was badly injured but survived.

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But the issue of the board and how it’s operated under Pritzker is far from settled. Senate Republicans who sounded the alarm for years on questionable parole decisions (well before the Crosetti Brand fiasco) now are proposing wide-ranging legislation to reform the board and to increase penalties for violations of orders of protection in domestic situations. Among other things, the bill would require more stringent qualifications for board members, who are paid nearly $100,000 a year.

“We have been raising red flags,” state Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, said Tuesday at a news conference to unveil the bill. “We have been warning about the lack of qualifications of some of the governor’s appointees for years. Literally years. . I don’t know why it’s taken a dead child for people to recognize some of these people are not qualified to serve on the board.”

Plummer, the top Senate Republican on the Executive Appointments Committee, said the board under Pritzker has been more than twice as likely to parole convicts, including murderers, than the past three governors, including two Democrats.

Those parolees include some notorious examples such as Chester Weger – the so-called Starved Rock Killer, convicted of the 1960 murder of three women out for a hike – who was released in 2020 at age 83. Another was the 2021 release of Johnny Veal, who along with a second man was convicted of killing two Chicago police officers in 1970. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, generally sympathetic to restorative-justice and rehabilitation arguments, opposed Veal’s parole, describing the cop killings as “cold-blooded executions” and adding that Veal boasted about it.

Yet another was Ray Larsen, given a 100-to-300-year sentence for murdering a 16-year-old fishing in a forest preserve in 1972. The board moved to release him in 2021, and Larsen immediately violated parole and was a fugitive for a week before authorities caught up with him at a local hospital. While Larsen was unaccounted for, Foxx’s office warned surviving family members of Frank Casolari, Larsen’s victim, since Larsen previously had threatened to harm family members, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Under Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, the Prisoner Review Board voted 12-0 to deny Larsen parole. Under Pritzker, the board granted Larsen’s release on a 9-3 vote.

Republicans in Springfield often struggle to be heard, since Democrats enjoy overwhelming majorities in both legislative chambers. But they’ve been right to call out the governor on the failures of the Prisoner Review Board, and Democrats in the capital should have heeded their warnings far earlier.

Like it or not, Pritzker bears part of the responsibility for the nightmare Jayden Perkins’ family has endured. Many of his Prisoner Review Board appointees have reflected a philosophy emphasizing criminal rehabilitation over victims’ concerns, and the board’s decisions have followed suit.

We hope it goes without saying that Democrats must engage honestly with Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, says he’ll review the GOP proposal. Hopefully, that review won’t be just cursory. If Republicans’ proposal to require a minimum 20 years of consecutive experience in the criminal justice system isn’t the right prescription, Democrats need to negotiate a set of qualifications to reassure the public that board members won’t be more sympathetic to criminals than to victims.

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