Criminal Justice Advocates Want Shorter Sentences For Minors

Mar 19, 2015

Credit flickr/meeshpants

Xavier McElrath-Bey was arrested when he was 13 years old. The Chicagoan went to prison for first degree murder for a gang-related crime. He left prison on good behavior at the age of 27 with a college degree in hand.

State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie wants to make sentencing for minors more lenient. House Bill 2471 would prohibit judges from sentencing minors to life without parole. House Bill 2470 would allow minors to have their sentence reviewed after serving 15 years.

McElrath-Bey and Restore Justice Illinois, an advocacy group for criminal justice, support Currie's proposals.

"It is beyond politics. It is beyond the politics of fear and anger, and for the most part it is about recognizing that these children simply are children, and that we as adults have a responsibility to them," McElrath-Bey said.

The proposal allowing for more sentencing review would affect about 700 people in Illinois prisons. About 100 Illinois inmates are currently serving life without parole for crimes they committed as minors.

Jeanne Bishop supports the proposals, even though she had three family members who were killed by a 16-year-old.

"It is merciless. It says to young people that no matter how remorseful you are, or how rehabilitated, or how safely you can be returned to society, we're going to punish you forever," Bishop said. "We're going to lock you up forever, we're going to freeze in time forever this one act that you committed."

Advocates say Gov. Bruce Rauner should support the proposals because of his goal to reduce the prison population.

Prosecutors told lawmakers they oppose the idea. The measures passed committee and head to the full House.