July 13, 2024

Republicans warn language change portrays lack of empathy for victims.

State legislators in Illinois have approved a bill that will relabel convicted criminals from “offenders” to “justice-impacted individuals.”

The specific proposed law is House Bill 4409, approved by the Democrat-controlled Illinois General Assembly, would amend the Illinois Crime Reduction Act of 2009 to change “references from ‘offenders’ to ‘justice-impacted individuals.’” (Related: Cartel-linked illegal remains free after shooting a transgender migrant in Chicago.)

The term change will only affect individuals in the Adult Redeploy Illinois (ARI) program, an initiative that aims to lower the occurrence of recidivism in the state by connecting offenders to rehabilitation programs.

“The Crime Reduction Act is based on the premise that crime can be reduced and the costs of the criminal justice system can be controlled by understanding and addressing the reasons why people commit crimes,” said the state of the ARI, which was created to provide financial incentives to local communities to find alternatives to incarceration for certain offenders by providing grants to counties to reduce the number of first-time offenders they send to prison. “It also acknowledges that local jurisdictions know best what resources are necessary to reduce crime in their communities.”

“This is good public safety policy. I know we’re getting hung up on a term, but I don’t want to lose sight that we are adding the [Illinois Department of Corrections] to this bill,” argued state Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago). “We’re trying to make sure that everybody has involvement in this program.”

State Democrats claim the term change is important to allow Illinoisans with criminal records who are in rehabilitation programs through the ARI not to be too intimately connected to their past mistakes.

This is what State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) argued in April when the bill was still being debated in the Illinois State House of Representatives.

“So, carrying a label of offender for life does not seem appropriate for a system in which we intend to return people to full participation in society,” said Cassidy, who believes people should not be defined by their worst day.

The bill was passed by the Illinois State House of Representatives back in April by a partisan vote, with 68 in favor and 40 against. On Tuesday, May 21, the Illinois Senate passed the bill by another largely partisan vote with 34 in favor and 20 against.

The bill now goes to Democrat Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk. His office has not made it clear whether Pritzker would support the bill by signing it or send it back to the General Assembly with a veto.

Republicans warn language change portrays lack of empathy for victims

Before the Illinois Senate voted to pass the bill, Republicans argued that the effort to change the language in the criminal code portrayed a lack of empathy for the victims of violent crimes and proved that state Democrats were not concerned for public safety.

“Change this, change that, the only thing you don’t want to change is the behavior of criminals,” said state Sen. Steve McClure (R-Springfield). “And guess who is paying for that right now? Victims all across the state. I urge a no vote.”

State Sen. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) argued that making this term change could hurt Illinois taxpayers.

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

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