© 2024 WNIJ and WNIU
Northern Public Radio
801 N 1st St.
DeKalb, IL 60115
Northern Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Senate Republicans Criticize Pritzker And Democrats For ‘Hiding’ Prisoner Review Board Appointee

Derek Cantù/ NPR Illinois

In the waning two weeks of the General Assembly’s spring legislative session, Illinois Senate Republicans accused Gov. JB Pritzker of intentionally “hiding” his appointees to the state’s Prisoner Review Board from a formal confirmation by the Senate.

Back in 2019, Pritzker appointed or reappointed four individuals to the PRB — a paid panel tasked with determining whether Illinois prisoners can be released early on parole, and reviewing whether former prisoners have violated their parole.

Under the Illinois Constitution, once an governor’s nominates an appointee to a key administrative role like agency director or a position on a state board or commission, the Illinois Senate is required to hold a confirmation hearing and cast a vote on the appointee within 60 legislative session days.

That has yet to happen. Instead, Pritzker earlier this year withdrew the four candidates and reappointed them, along with other appointees to boards, commissions and other key jobs, resetting the 60-day clock for confirmation.

“These individuals can continue to serve and make life altering and potentially dangerous decisions without oversight by the committee or the full Senate,” State Sen. Steven McClure (R-Springfield) said at a press conference last month.

Article V, Section 9 of the Constitution reads, “Any nomination not acted upon by the Senate within 60 session days after the receipt thereof shall be deemed to have received the advice and consent of the Senate.”

McClure accused Pritzker of “manipulating,” the system in order to continue to let these individuals serve on the board without undergoing a traditional confirmation hearing before the Senate.

Pritzker’s office chastised Republicans for engaging in “grandstanding,” and warned politicizing the confirmation process would set a “dangerous precedent.”

“At the same time, the Senate is voting on bills to expand the prisoner review boards power,” McClure said, referring to two bills championed by Democrats this spring.

HB 3512 would allow for a panel consisting of at least three members from the Prisoner Review Board to evaluate whether an inmate who committed a crime — including first degree murder and sexual assault — while they were a minor and were sentenced as an adult can be eligible for mandatory supervised release before they turn 21 years old.

The measure didn’t get a final vote in the Senate before the end of spring legislative session, but may when lawmakers return to Springfield later this month to tie up other business.

HB 3665 would allow for another three-member Prisoner Review Board panel to evaluate whether an inmate can be placed on mandatory supervised release due to a medical incapacitation diagnosis or a terminal illness. That bill passed both chambers last month.

“If you have pancreatic cancer or something else that's advanced to a point where you can't function, does it really make a difference whether you're within a prison wall or not?” the proposal’s chief sponsor State Sen. John Connor (D-Lockport) asked during a Senate debate last week.

For that proposal, Republican lawmakers didn’t only take issue with the lack of oversight over the review board, but also questioned what the procedure would be for someone who is deemed terminal but goes on to live for years.

“In my 20 years in the Department of Corrections, over and over and over again there were physicians that would tell us that a particular incarcerated individual was going to pass very soon, and then two or three years later the person is still living,” State Sen. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) said.

In an attempt to regain oversight, Senate Republicans raised a motion over the weekend of legislative session to schedule a hearing for not just the four appointees in question, but all the members of the Prisoner Review Board on May 31 — the last scheduled day of session.

“This isn't about Republicans and Democrats, this is about the Senate,” State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) said. “We have a duty under the Constitution to hear those appointments made by the governor, and we owe it to the people of this state to have a vote on the governor's appointments.”

However, when May 31 came, the assignments committee did not take up a vote on any Prisoner Review Board members.

“The Democrat majority won't call them and will not do their constitutional duty because apparently the governor's checkbook is more important than the people living in their districts,” State Sen. Jason Plummer (R-Edwardsville) said last week. “You mark my words, people in Illinois will be harmed by some of these people who are being released.”

Much of the Republican ire has been directed toward the release of a man named Ray Larsen who killed a 16-year old in 1972 after sexually assaulting and robbing another woman.

Larsen, now 76, was released from incarceration in May. Shortly thereafter, Larsen went a week without checking in with his parole officer. He was eventually found checked into a Chicago-area hospital.

“Imagine the victims of those crimes and the sleeplessness that they had because I didn't sleep for a week wondering where that guy was,” Bryant said. “It could have been in any one of our districts where that individual was loose.”

Republicans said they did not receive a specific reason why the Prisoner Review Board members were not discussed Monday, but McClure posited it may be they don’t want to subject themselves to scrutiny.

“We've got members of the Prisoner Review Board who have had a staggering lack of empathy for our victims and a total disregard for public safety,” McClure said. “Would you want to come before our committee to answer questions about that?”

Although Plummer acknowledged it is commonplace for appointees to be withdrawn and reappointed, he claims this scenario is different because of “embarrassment.”

“There's been circumstances in the past that have delayed someone from being able to appear, what we've seen here is an intentional act to continue to delay the appearance,” Plummer said. “They simply don't want them to appear before the media. They don't want them to appear before the committee, because, frankly, I think they're embarrassed of the governor's appointees.”

Copyright 2021 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Derek Cantù is NPR Illinois' graduate student Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2021 legislative session.