Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service-IL
http://www.publicnewsservice.org/index.php?/content/article/38017-1
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(03/10/14) SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Supporters of the Elderly Bill in Illinois are denying that it’s “a get out of jail free” pass for aging long-term prisoners. House Bill 3668 would enable a convict who is 50 years of age or older and who has served at least 25 consecutive years to apply for a sentence modification.

According to Bill Ryan, member of the steering committee of Project I-11, a coalition focused on prison reform in the state, the measure addresses the question, ‘What is the purpose of sentencing?'”

“If it is to punish, then 25 years in an Illinois prison certainly is punishment,” Ryan said. “If it is to rehabilitate and people can show that they are rehabilitated, why keep them in prison, at a cost of $75,000 a year, to warehouse the elderly in our prisons?”

Besides saving the state money, Ryan said, the measure would also reduce prison overcrowding. Families of victims would be allowed input in the sentencing modification process. He added that national studies find that prisoners over age 50 who have served long sentences have virtually no recidivism rate for violent crimes. The bill was introduced by Representative Art Turner (D-District 9) and has nine co-sponsors.

Ryan said the Elderly bill will help to distinguish long-term offenders who have turned their lives around and become fully rehabilitated, from those who are not rehabilitated.

“Most of us do not know anything about prisons or the prisoners,” he asserted. “They need to know that people can change, and people do change.”

Ryan said this bill provides for modest and needed sentencing reform, but it’s just a first step.

“The United States incarcerates and locks up more people than any country in the world. We lock up more and they stay longer. We need to look at the purpose of sentencing and make it an issue and make some changes,” he declared.

Project I-11 takes its name from Article I, Section 11 of the Illinois Constitution, which specifies that the purpose of incarceration is to return prisoners to “useful citizenship.”

Information on the bill is at ILGA.gov.

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