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April 23, 2018

Representative Stratton
State Representative, District 5
2907 S. Wabash, Suite 100B
Chicago, IL 60616

RE: HB 531, Senate Amendment 1 (Youthful Offender Parole Bill)

Dear Representative Stratton;

We write as a group to strenuously oppose the Youthful Offender Parole Bill, Senate
Amendment 1 to HB 531 (the Senate version of the bill is SB 3228). With violent crime
on the rise and a record numbers of shootings and carjackings in Chicago the very idea
that some of our State’s most violent murderers and rapists could be released pursuant
to the Youthful Parole Bill is frightening and insulting. Put very simply, letting violent
offenders out of prison early will cost society dearly and will deny the People of Illinois
the full measure of justice they are entitled to.

Despite the State’s Attorney’s Association’s attempt to raise awareness of the social
cost of crime, the General Assembly seems intent on looking only at the savings early
release programs will generate, without regard for the cost of violent crime to society.
We all know it costs $28,000-$32,000 annually to incarcerate a defendant in IDOC, but
there’s been little or no discussion about the social cost of crime. Using the Willingness
to Pay method, Professors Mark Cohen, Roland Rust, Sara Steen, and Simon Tidd
estimate that one homicide has a social cost of $4 million (in inflation-adjusted 2013
dollars), a criminal sexual assault has a social cost of $293,000, and a robbery has a
social cost of $287,000. These social cost of crime figures use the “willingness to pay”
approach for valuing non-market “goods” (in this case the “good” would be “freedom
from crime”), the preferred approach by economists (see Cook and Ludwig, 2000,
Willingness-to-pay for crime control programs, Criminology, 2004;42:89–109).

Some previous studies of the social cost of crime have relied on jury award data to
value the intangible part of the social cost of crime. These prior cost estimates (taken
from Miller, Cohen, and Wiersema 1996 as cited in Cohen et al 2004) equal: Murder:
$3.9 million in 2000 dollars (in 2013 inflation-adjusted dollars: $5.8 million), Sexual
Assault: $114,000 (in 2013 inflation-adjusted dollars: $170,000); Armed Robbery:
$31,800 (in 2013 inflation-adjusted dollars: $47,401).
The cost to society grows even larger when murderers, armed robbers and rapists are
released before serving their full court-ordered sentences. Not only do these convicts
have a proven capability of perpetrating violence, and thus pose a danger to society,
but the People are denied justice and have to live with a criminal justice system that
has failed.

In 2017, there were close to 1,000 carjackings in Chicago. A majority of these

carjackings were committed by juveniles. According to Chicago Police, about 700
juveniles were arrested in Chicago in connection with all types of gun-related crimes
during the first seven months of 2017. Those crimes ranged from murder to armed
robbery to carjacking to unlawful possession of a firearm. Of those 700 juveniles, 42
percent were arrested again. Of those arrests, half were for offenses involving guns.
Moreover, violent crime is up in the collar counties. In 2017, felonies were up 16% in
DuPage County and 7% in Kane County (nearly 13 % over the last two years).

It is no surprise that since the General Assembly removed armed robbery with a gun
and aggravated vehicular hijacking with a gun from the excluded jurisdiction statute on
January 1, 2016, there has been a huge increase in armed robberies committed by
juveniles while armed with a gun. According to Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie
Johnson, street gangs are sending out juveniles to rob people of their cars. These cars
are then used by the gang to commit other crimes. This is no coincidence. It is naïve to
suggest that allowing violent offenders to be released from prison early will do anything
other than increase violent crime committed by juveniles. The General Assembly
should be looking at ways to incapacitate violent offenders instead of letting them out
early. Releasing violent criminals after serving as few as 10 years in prison will
undoubtedly decrease the deterrent effect of long sentences and increase the risk these
offenders will re-offend, thereby adding to the social cost of crime.

In Illinois, individuals who reach the age of 18 are considered adults. Individuals who
have reached the age of 18 can buy a house, get married, serve in our military, and enter
into contracts. The proponents of HB 531 Amendment 1 cite neuroscience as
justification for allowing violent offenders to be released early on parole. If the General
Assembly believes that the brains of people under 21 are not fully developed, then it
should pass laws forbidding people under 21 from marrying, paying taxes, entering into
contracts and serving our country. In light of the laws in place regarding the age of
majority, using neuroscience to single out and excuse the commission of violent crimes
is disingenuous.

In Miller v Alabama, the United States Supreme Court held only that mandatory life
sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. The courts have not held that sentencing
youthful offenders to long sentences for committing violent crimes violates the

The youthful offender parole bill takes authority away from judges and puts it in the
hand of the Parole Board. Sentencing hearings are important to ensure due process to
both the defendant and the victim. Before a lawful sentence is handed down by a judge,
prosecutors provide evidence in aggravation, or reasons why a defendant should
receive a specific sentence. Defense attorneys provide information to the judge by way
of mitigation, evidence that is favorable to the defendant. Most importantly, victims of
crime are provided the opportunity to present victim impact evidence to the court
whether by testimony or written statements. Defendants are allowed to make statements
to the court if they choose to do so. After considering all of these factors the judge then
imposes a sentence. The youthful offender parole bill will render a judge’s sentencing
decision virtually worthless and their evaluation of these factors meaningless.

House Bill 0531 and Senate Amendment 1 especially impact victims of crime. Victims
of crime should have confidence that our criminal justice system will protect them and
that lawful sentences issued by judges will be served. Having confidence in our
criminal justice system helps the healing process for victims and provides some sense
of closure. If this bill is passed, it will destroy victims’ and the public’s confidence in
our criminal justice system, effectively making them victims again.

If HB 531 Amendment 1 becomes law, any sentence over 10 or 20 years, other than a
natural life sentence, would become indeterminate. The concept of “truth in
sentencing” would be mere lip service. Moreover, the community and family members
of victims would never obtain closure. After Illinois voters voted overwhelmingly to
amend the Illinois Constitution with the Victim’s Rights Amendment (Illinois
Constitution, Article I, Section 8.1), this legislation is a slap in the face to the families
of victims and law abiding Illinois citizens.

Over the past 20 years, research has shown that evidence-based practices that stress
treatment and counseling over incarceration have better outcomes for low level non-
violent offenders. When it comes to violent offenders however, we are talking about
criminals whose conduct seriously threatens the foundations of a civilized society.
When someone commits a violent crime, the entire community is victimized, not just
the victim’s family. The fear and pain that come from a violent crime like murder or
rape does not go away. Communities deal with the aftermath of violent crime for many
years, and this bill only adds uncertainty as an additional element of their suffering.

Most defendants who have served at least 20 years in IDOC have been convicted of a
violent crime. In sentencing these inmates, judges considered the statutory aggravating
factors (730 ILCS 5/5-5-3.2). These factors include: the defendant’s conduct caused or
threatened serious harm, and the sentence is necessary to deter others from committing
the same crime. In addition, many defendants in IDOC for at least 20 years received
extended terms after a judge or jury found the offense was accompanied by
exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty. These are
inmates in IDOC who deserve the same compassion they showed their victims.

Additionally, there is no need for this legislation, as our Constitution gives the
Governor unbridled clemency power. The Illinois Constitution gives the Governor the
authority to "grant reprieves, commutations and pardons, after conviction, for all
offenses on such terms as he thinks proper." Ill. Const. 1970, art. 5, § 12. The Illinois
Supreme Court has held this power is extremely broad and cannot be controlled by
either the courts or the legislature. People ex rel. Madigan v. Snyder, 208 Ill. 2d 457

The single most important obligation of government is protecting the public. We

protect the public by enacting and enforcing laws and making sure those who violate
the law are punished appropriately. This is not a matter of trying to save money by
reducing the State’s prison population. It’s about justice. Walter Berns, a famous
American Constitutional law and political professor, theorized that by punishing the
criminal, the law teaches law-abidingness, and by so doing, it promotes respect for
those things-such as human life-that the criminal has violated. If human life is to be
held in awe, as it should be, then punishment must fit the crime. What kind of society
do we live in when violent murderers and rapists who have terrorized the community
can be released from prison after serving only 20 years, or when carjackers and armed
robbers can be released after serving as little as 10 years?

Over the past several years we have supported numerous reforms to the criminal justice
system, especially when dealing with low-level non-violent offenders. Violent
criminals are different however. For all of these reasons, we are adamantly opposed to
HB 531 Senate Amendment 1 and urge you in the strongest of terms to oppose this


Robert B. Berlin Joseph H. McMahon

DuPage County State’s Attorney Kane County State’s Attorney

Michael G. Nerheim James W. Glasgow

Lake County State’s Attorney Will County State’s Attorney

Patrick D. Kenneally Eric Weis

McHenry County State’s Attorney Kendall County State’s Attorney

Rick Amato
DeKalb County State’s Attorney