Gov. Pritzker continues clashing with Senate over parole board

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate and Gov. J.B. Pritzker remain divided over changes to the state’s embattled parole board, even as the Democratic-controlled legislature and the Democratic governor move toward a belated state budget deal.

Over opposition from the governor’s office, Senate Democrats, joined by their Republican colleagues, voted without opposition late Sunday to codify a series of changes to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, a body that has been a source of long-running bipartisan tension between the legislative chamber and the Pritzker administration.

The discord, which began two years ago when the Senate rejected some of Pritzker’s appointments to the board, most recently flared earlier this spring after the panel released 37-year-old parolee Crosetti Brand. After his release, he was charged with killing 11-year-old Jayden Perkins and attacking the child’s mother, with whom he once had a relationship.

The attack occurred March 13 at the woman’s residence on Chicago’s North Side, a day after Brand was released from state custody.

Days after the attack, the board’s chairman, Donald Shelton, and board member LeAnn Miller, who drafted the order authorizing Brand’s release, resigned.

“We here in the Senate have wrestled for several years with the Prisoner Review Board and some of the consequences of decisions made there,” Senate President Don Harmon said while explaining the proposal on the Senate floor ahead of Sunday’s vote.

While the Oak Park Democrat said the “recent tragedy” of Jayden’s death had “spurred the House” to pass a measure seeking changes to the board, the Senate modified it to include several provisions Pritzker opposes.

The Senate proposal, which must return to the House for approval before being sent to the governor’s desk, would, among other provisions, require the panel to publish on its website information for victims about how to submit victim-impact statements for the board to consider in its deliberations. This would apply to victims of domestic violence who’ve filed orders of protection against their abusers, who may be considered by the board for early release.

The measure would create more robust requirements to notify victims before hearings and when prisoners are released, and it would require board members to go through special training related to domestic violence issues.

Among the main points of contention from Pritzker, there’s also a provision that would require the board to make certain open hearings available to the public via live broadcast on the board’s website, where recordings of the hearings would have to remain available for at least 18 months.

“This is a bill that has unified Democrats and Republicans across the ideological spectrum because it imposes commonsense discipline on the prisoner Review Board,” Harmon said.

A memorial for Jayden Perkins, a 11-year-old boy who was stabbed to death in his home on March 13, on March 15, 2024, outside Perkin's home in Chicago. (Vincent Alban/Chicago Tribune)
A memorial for Jayden Perkins, a 11-year-old boy who was stabbed to death in his home on March 13, is shown on March 15, 2024, outside his home in Chicago. (Vincent Alban/Chicago Tribune)

Indeed, Senate GOP leader John Curran of Downers Grove was a co-sponsor of the Senate proposal.

Curran, a former Cook County assistant state’s attorney, said a task force created in the legislation to review policies and procedures would be an important force for driving changes to the board. The task force would be made up of administration officials, state legislators, advocates and representatives from the criminal justice system.

“We are not just leaving to a department,” Curran said. “We are independently acting and exercising to help reform.”

The governor’s office supported the original House proposal, which contained similar provisions related to training on domestic violence and was approved last week without opposition.

But Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said the Senate’s version amounts to “an unfunded and completely unworkable mandate on the PRB given the volume of work they are expected to process every month.”

The Senate ignored requests from the governor’s office to allow the task force created in its proposal to take up the issue of how to increase transparency at the board, Abudayyeh said.

The parole board “is committed to increasing transparency. Hearings are currently open and records of the hearings are available” via public-records requests, she said.

“It is an immense challenge to do nearly 5,000 parole revocation hearings a year and we would prefer to be a part of the conversation on how best to increase transparency instead of having requirements the board will not be able to fulfill foisted upon them,” Abudayyeh said.

Whether the Senate proposal makes it to Pritzker’s desk remains to be seen.

After lawmakers blew past a self-imposed Friday deadline, the House is scheduled to return to Springfield on Tuesday to take up the state budget plan approved late Sunday in the Senate.

Democratic state Rep. Kelly Cassidy of Chicago, who sponsored the original version of the parole board changes that had Pritzker’s support, did not respond Monday to a request for comment on whether she’s on board with the changes.

Tensions between Pritzker and the Senate over the parole board first came to a head during the 2022, when Democrats in the chamber joined with Republicans to reject two of the governor’s appointments during an election year when the GOP in Illinois and nationally sought to paint opponents as soft on crime.

The appointees the Senate rejected — Jeffrey Mears and Eleanor Wilson — had voted to grant early release to convicted murders. Some Democrats objected in particular to Wilson’s votes to release two men who were each convicted of killing a police officer.

Two other appointees, Oreal James and Max Cerda, who were serving on an interim basis, resigned before their nominations came to the Senate floor for approval.

This April, Pritzker appointed James Montgomery, a Massachusetts sheriff’s office official and former Illinois mayor, to a newly created position as executive director of the board, ​​with a mandate to expand domestic violence training for board members. The Senate has yet to take up the appointment.

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