Call it a side effect of an election year.
The panel met at the
James R. Thompson Center in Chicago to discuss the Department of
Corrections program that led to the early release of 1,700 inmates
last year. It first met in Peoria earlier this month, where some
interested Democratic lawmakers stopped by and were welcomed to the
Now both parties are trading accusations of politicizing one of
the election year's biggest scandals. State Rep. Dennis Reboletti,
R-Addison, a former prosecutor, said he believed Democrats snubbed
Wednesday's meeting as a way to obstruct further investigation into
the early prisoner release program.
"This is not something that we've taken lightly; this is
something that we've tried to be helpful for, and we would be
hopeful that some of our Democratic colleagues would be joining us
today, as they did in Peoria," he said.
The governor's office has dismissed the hearings as partisan
tools in a tough election year, a sentiment shared by state Sen.
Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, who sat in on the first panel held in
"What's unfortunate is the timing -- this close to election
year," he said. "This is a serious issue, but it's being used as a
Koehler was joined by two other Peoria-area Democrats during the
first panel, Reps. Mike Smith and Jehan Gordon. Though all three
essentially came as uninvited guests, Koehler said the panel was
able to get past partisan sniping and delve into serious dialogue.
"I almost didn't go, because this was rumored to be a political
event," he said. "There was some real good testimony from people
looking not just at early release, but reforming the whole system."
The panel was formed earlier this month after repeated attempts
to investigate the program were blocked by Democrats in the General
Assembly. Republican leaders gave the group an air of formality with
the title Illinois Joint Investigatory Committee on Early Release,
although it does not have legal standing with the General Assembly.
The lack of recognition has not stopped the panel from inviting
on public safety policymakers, including Department of Corrections
head Michael Randle and former Judge David Erickson, who led the
state's investigation into the program.
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Randle balked at the invitation, but Erickson sent a note
indicating he could meet with the lawmakers when his teaching
schedule at Kent University Law School allowed it. The former judge
released his review on the Meritorious Good Time program on Aug. 13,
just two days after the panel met for the first time.
That report, which categorized the program as a "failure,"
provided the foundation for Wednesday's meeting. While the panel was
made up of only one political party, it featured an array of views.
The committee heard from prosecutors and defense attorneys between
testimony from victims' rights groups and ex-convicts.
The testimony, both for and against good behavior credits, could
have little effect without legislative backing. Koehler said he has
talked with Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, about
forming such a panel after the Nov. 2 election.
"We would be happy to join a truly bipartisan panel -- but only
after the election," he said.
But Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, said there are unanswered
questions about the program that go beyond politics, including the
whereabouts of dozens of inmates released early, along with who
designed the program.
"We got stonewalled by the director of Corrections," he said.
"There's a lot of unanswered questions ... and hopefully, Judge
Erickson ... will meet with us, if not all together, then
Chicago's meeting is the last one scheduled by the panel.
Statehouse News; By BILL McMORRIS]