Apologizing for the criminal? Illinois set to change ‘offender’ to ‘justice-impacted individual’ in state laws

(The Center Square) – Illinois legislators have passed legislation that would change the word “offender” to “justice impacted individual” in state law, a move Republicans say disrespects victims of violent crime.

House Bill 4409, which passed both houses yesterday, would also add Illinois Department of Corrections representation to the Adult Redeploy Illinois oversight board, but it also changes the word “offender” to “justice-impacted individuals.” Republicans on the Senate floor said the name change could cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.

The ARI program aims to reduce crime and recidivism at a lower cost to taxpayers through community services as an alternative to prison. Proponents said the ARI program is successful in reducing crime and that it has eligibility requirements, specifically individuals in the program have to be first-time offenders.

State Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, urged lawmakers to vote no.

“Over and over again, we keep changing the name of how we are referring to those who have entered into criminal activity and each time we make that change, each agency has to make that change on every one of their documents. Right now in the Department of Corrections, there’s multiple changes that have been made and it’s costing thousands and thousands of dollars just to do a name change. Why is it necessary to make the name change?” Bryant said Tuesday.

State Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, encouraged members to not get hung up on the name change because the program oversight board could use more representation.

“We’re adding the DOC, adding Human Services, Sangamon and Cook County adult probation and two members who have experienced the ARI system as offenders or as justice-impacted individuals,” Peters said.

Republicans said the focus shouldn’t be on what they called the “poor offender” but rather on the victims of violent crimes. State Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, brought up how the Prisoner Review Board released Crosetti Brand, the man who killed 11-year-old Jayden Perkins a day after his release. He said Brand wasn’t a justice-impacted individual but rather an offender.

“There seems to be this rush to take away all accountability for people who commit crimes. If a person is going to get on the right path, they have to know they did something wrong. This apologizing for the criminal, the person who chooses to commit crimes to the detriment of our victims, the people who don’t choose to be victims of crimes, is absolutely incredible. Crime is up 38% year-to-date since 2019. Crime is up everywhere. We have seen an incredible increase of drugs that have been snuck into prison, we are on pace for a record year” when it comes to drugs in prisons, McClure said.

McClure asked Peters, the bill’s sponsor, if the bill also sought to change the word “victims.” McClure also asked what the term justice-impacted individual meant.

“That means someone who has been impacted by the criminal justice system and is an individual,” Peters said. “We [in this bill] don’t mess with anything in regards to the term ‘victim,’ we just change the word ‘offender’ to ‘justice-impacted individual.’”

The bill passed both the House and Senate and can be sent to the governor for further action.

Illinois legislators are also pushing a bill that would change the crime known as “armed habitual criminal” to “persistent unlawful possession of a weapon.” They apparently believe people convicted of “armed habitual criminal” are getting bad reputations based on the name of the crime.

“It really comes out of the reentry space where people who don’t live in this world as we do [as state legislators] see the title of the offense and think it means something much more nefarious than it really does mean,” said Rep. Kelly Cassidy, whose district includes Uptown, Edgewater, and Rogers Park. She is also a House sponsor of the bill that would reclassify offenders as “justice-impacted individuals.”

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